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US, UK launch airstrikes on Houthi rebel targets in Yemen

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The US and UK launched airstrikes on more than 60 Houthi rebel targets in Yemen, sparking vows of retaliation and a rise in oil prices after weeks of attacks in the Red Sea disrupted commercial shipping, according to Bloomberg.

The strikes overnight by American and British forces targeted 16 Houthi locations, including radar installations and storage and launch sites for drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles, according to American officials and the US Air Force. 

The move was a “clear message that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to imperil freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most critical commercial routes,” President Joe Biden said in a statement that left the door open to further action.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described the move as a “limited, necessary and proportionate action” after weeks of “dangerous and destabilizing attacks” by the Houthis against shipping in the Red Sea. 

While it was too soon to determine the impact of the strikes, which began around 2 a.m. Yemen time, they were intended to cripple the Houthis’ ability to continue attacking commercial vessels. But they also risked widening a conflict that began when Hamas militants stormed into Israel on October 7.

In a televised speech earlier Thursday, Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi vowed a “big” response to the US and its allies if they proceeded with military action against his group. 

“We’ll confront the American aggression,” he said. “Any American attack won’t go unpunished.” 

The latest strikes took place hours after Secretary of State Antony Blinken ended a trip through the Middle East that was aimed in part at getting support for more aggressive action toward the Houthis, insisting that “there will have to be consequences” if the attacks at sea persisted. 

Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said the strikes were critical for “maintaining freedom of navigation on the high seas” and protecting global trade. 

Global crude oil benchmark Brent moved higher by about 2% to match the move in West Texas Intermediate following the strikes in Yemen. Whether prices stay higher will depend on whether Thursday’s actions spark a more severe reaction. 

Heavy explosions were reported in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a and the port city of Hodeida. The target sites were assessed as having no civilians nearby, one US official said, adding that early indications suggested the impact on the Houthis’ ability to launch future attacks was significant.

The Houthi actions prompted many commercial shippers to direct their vessels around the southern tip of Africa rather than risk more attacks in the Red Sea. That’s increased shipping times and threatened to snarl supply chains. Biden said in his statement that more than 2,000 ships had been forced to divert thousands of miles to avoid the Red Sea.

But the extensive airstrikes are also a gamble for the US, which has repeatedly said a top priority amid the Israel-Hamas fighting is to keep the conflict from spreading. The US and its allies went ahead despite concerns from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other nations in the region that strikes would only further inflame tensions, Bloomberg reports. 

After the strikes occurred, Saudi Arabia called for restraint and avoiding escalation “in light of the events the region is witnessing,” according to a statement carried by the official SPA news agency.