Houthi Red Sea ship seizure sparks global outrage

Yemen’s Houthis have seized the cargo ship Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea, off the coast of Yemen, after threatening to seize all vessels owned by Israeli companies. (AP Photo)
Short Url
Updated 21 November 2023

Houthi Red Sea ship seizure sparks global outrage

  • Yemeni Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani: This terrorist act does not have any direct or indirect impact on the brutal Israeli occupation
  • British government accuses Iran of pressuring its proxy groups, including the Houthis, into targeting ships in the region

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s government, the EU, the UK and several other Western countries condemned the Houthi assault on the Galaxy Leader ship in the Red Sea this week, accusing the militia of endangering international maritime traffic.

Yemeni Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani called the Houthi hijacking a “full-fledged crime of piracy” and “state terrorism” that had no bearing on Israel’s war in Gaza. He called for the Houthis to be “named and shamed” for endangering maritime navigation in the Red Sea.

“This terrorist act does not have any direct or indirect impact on the brutal Israeli occupation. Rather, it directly affects the international trade movement in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab Strait, Suez Canal and the economies of the riparian countries,” Al-Eryani said.

The Houthis on Sunday announced the seizure of the ship, which they said is owned by an Israeli businessman. The seizure is retribution for Israel’s shelling of Gaza, the militia said, adding that the vessel will be rerouted to the port of Hodeidah, which they control.

“Threats to international navigation and maritime security are unacceptable. We call for the immediate release of the ship and its crew,” the EU mission in Yemen said on X.

The British government harshly condemned the Houthi assault and demanded that the militia “immediately” and “unconditionally” free the ship and its crew. The British government accused Iran of pressuring its proxy groups, including the Houthis, to target ships in the region.

“Iran has long provided military and political support to the Houthis. We have made it clear to Iran that it bears responsibility for the actions of its proxies and partners. Iran must actively restrain these groups to prevent the conflict escalating across the region,” the UK government said in a statement.

The Houthis responded to worldwide criticism by threatening more assaults on Israeli-owned ships and any other vessels managed by Israel that transit through the Red Sea.

Yemen’s ambassador to the UK, Yaseen Saeed Noman, has warned that Houthi “piracy” will harm the country’s economy and prevent Yemen from profiting from its advantageous geographical positions on the Red Sea and Arabian Sea. “Yemen is a country whose main economic pillar is the sea. As part of a series of systematic damage operations against the nation, the Houthis are driving it into piracy,” he said on Facebook.

At the same time, Yemeni government officials and experts argue that if the Yemeni government had been permitted to gain control of Hodeidah in late 2018, the Houthis would not have used the country’s western beaches on the Red Sea to launch assaults on ships.

Five years ago, the Yemeni government came under intense international pressure to halt its military attack on the city of Hodeidah and accept the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement.

Many governments and international relief groups warned at the time that if fighting reached Hodeidah, many Yemenis would starve, since the majority of the country’s food and humanitarian supplies pass through the city’s port.

“The Houthis would not have threatened security in the Red Sea if they were not allowed to keep Hodeidah seaport in the first place,” Nadwa Dawsari, a conflict expert and a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, said on X.

Yemen rebels threaten Israel-bound Red Sea ships

Updated 15 sec ago

Yemen rebels threaten Israel-bound Red Sea ships

  • The Houthis have recently attacked ships they claim have direct links to Israel, but their latest threat expands the scope of their targets

SANAA: Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatened on Saturday to attack any vessels heading to Israeli ports unless food and medicine were allowed into the besieged Gaza Strip.
The latest warning comes amid heightened tensions in the Red Sea and surrounding waters following a series of maritime attacks by Houthi rebels since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7.
In a statement posted on social media, the Houthis said they “will prevent the passage of ships heading to the Zionist entity” if humanitarian aid is not allowed into Hamas-ruled Gaza.
The Houthis have recently attacked ships they claim have direct links to Israel, but their latest threat expands the scope of their targets.
Regardless of which flag ships sail under or the nationality of their owners or operators, Israel-bound vessels “will become a legitimate target for our armed forces,” the statement said.
Israel’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, said his country would not accept the “naval siege,” noting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had asked US President Joe Biden and European leaders to take measures to address the situation.
“If the world will not take care of it,” Hanegbi warned on Israel’s Channel 12 television, “we will take action to remove the naval siege.”
Last week, the Houthis attacked two ships off the Yemeni coast, including a Bahamas-flagged vessel, claiming they were Israeli-owned.
And last month, the rebel forces seized the Galaxy Leader, an Israeli-linked cargo vessel.
“We warn all ships and companies against dealing with Israeli ports,” the latest Houthi statement said.
It added that all “ships linked to Israel or that will transport goods to Israeli ports” are not welcome in the Red Sea, a vital channel for global trade linked to the Suez Canal.
Beyond maritime attacks, the Houthis have launched a series of drone and missile strikes targeting Israel since the deadly attacks by Palestinian militant group Hamas triggered all-out war.
The militants poured over the border into Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping about 240 others, according to Israeli officials.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, and launched a military offensive in Gaza that has killed at least 17,700 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
The spike in maritime incidents prompted G7 foreign ministers at a meeting earlier this month to urge the rebels to cease threats to international shipping and to release the Galaxy Leader.

Lebanon border clashes intensify despite peace efforts

Updated 45 sec ago

Lebanon border clashes intensify despite peace efforts

  • Supreme Islamic Council condemns Israeli targeting of villages, farms
  • French delegation leads talks in Tel Aviv, Beirut in bid to restore calm

BEIRUT: Confrontations between Hezbollah militants and the Israeli army intensified on Saturday as talks continued in an effort to end the conflict on Lebanon’s southern border.

The Supreme Islamic Council, which includes Sunni figures in Lebanon, expressed concern about Israeli targeting of villages, towns, and farms in southern areas of the country.

The council met in Dar Al-Fatwa, chaired by the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian.

In a statement, the council said that Israeli officials should be considered “perpetrators of war crimes and mass crimes against humanity, and subjected to international justice, to prevent the occurrence of these crimes elsewhere in the world.”

The statement came as a French delegation met with Lebanese leaders and security officials for a second day in a bid to settle the conflict.

The delegation visited Tel Aviv ahead of the talks, which seek to restore calm along the Blue Line as part of a commitment to implement UN Resolution 1701.

Speaking after the meeting, Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said he notified the visiting French delegation of acts of Israeli aggression stretching back to 2006 and involving more than 30,000 violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty.

He called for the demarcation of the land border and an Israeli withdrawal from occupied Lebanese regions.

Bou Habib reiterated that Lebanese airspace should not be used to attack Syria, and highlighted the importance of supporting the Lebanese army in implementing the UN resolution.

The delegation from France’s Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs is led by Frederic Mondoloni, director-general for political and security affairs, and includes Alice Rufo, director-general of external relations and strategy at the French Ministry of Armed Forces.

Israel stepped up its shelling of southern border villages on Saturday.

Homeowners and facility owners captured footage of the widespread destruction of property, with some houses in Odaisseh and Aita Al-Shaab leveled.

Some of the villages are believed to have been targeted preemptively by Israel in order to thwart possible attacks by Hezbollah.

After a night of Israeli shelling, Hezbollah resumed its strikes on Israeli military sites.

Hezbollah said it targeted Israeli soldiers near Metula “with appropriate weapons, causing direct hits.”

The militant group also renewed its shelling of areas in Ramyah, and said it struck an Israeli bunker, killing and wounding those inside.

It also targeted an Israeli army site in Ras Naqoura.

The killing of several fighters in the past 48 hours has lifted Hezbollah’s death toll to 95 since the beginning of its involvement in hostilities on Oct. 8.

Media reports said that three militants died when their car was targeted by an Israeli drone in Quneitra, Syria.

The Israeli army escalated its attacks on Lebanon, shelling Mount Labouneh with heavy artillery, according to a security source.

For the second time in recent days the Israeli army also targeted Lebanese army facilities.

Israeli shelling targeted an army hospital in Ain Ebel, according to the Lebanese Army Command, while an army site in Jidar, near Rmeish, was hit by two phosphorus shells, injuring two soldiers.

Three soldiers were injured when Israeli rockets struck the Intelligence and Naval Forces Center in Ras Al-Naqoura.

Israeli artillery also targeted the outskirts of the Kfarchouba village and the Zebdine outpost, with rockets being fired every 15 minutes.

Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee said that fighter jets hit a series of Hezbollah targets inside Lebanon, including the party’s operational headquarters.



Syria strikes kill 6 civilians in rebel bastion: monitor

Updated 32 min 32 sec ago

Syria strikes kill 6 civilians in rebel bastion: monitor

  • “Regime forces directly targeted residential areas of the city of Idlib,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
  • Government forces fired “more than 35 missiles” during the bombardment

BEIRUT: Six civilians were killed and 25 others wounded on Saturday in Syrian army bombardment of the country’s last major rebel bastion, a war monitor said.
“Regime forces directly targeted residential areas of the city of Idlib,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, adding that industrial areas were also hit, as well as “residential areas in the town of Sarmin” nearby.
Six civilians, “including two children and a woman,” were killed in Idlib and Sarmin, while 25 others were wounded in the strikes in various areas of Idlib province, added the Britain-based Observatory.
Government forces fired “more than 35 missiles” during the bombardment, it added.
Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria branch, controls swathes of Idlib province and parts of the neighboring Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.
HTS is considered a terrorist group by Damascus, as well as by the United States and the European Union.
Parts of the rebel bastion have seen fierce fighting in recent days, according to the Observatory.
On Friday, it said 11 pro-government forces and five HTS fighters had been killed after the jihadists launched an attack in neighboring Aleppo province a day earlier.
Late last month, Syrian government bombardment killed nine civilians including six children as they harvested olives in Idlib province, reported the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.
Civil war erupted in Syria after President Bashar Assad crushed peaceful anti-government protests in 2011.
The conflict has killed more than half a million people and displaced millions after spiralling into a devastating war involving foreign armies, militias and jihadists.
A cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkiye was declared in Idlib after a government offensive in March 2020, but it has been repeatedly violated.

Israel-Hamas war in Gaza takes heavy toll on Palestinian cultural heritage

Updated 6 min 35 sec ago

Israel-Hamas war in Gaza takes heavy toll on Palestinian cultural heritage

  • Libraries, archives, parks and museums damaged or destroyed by weeks of Israeli bombardment of occupied enclave
  • Gaza Municipal Library and Rashad Al-Shawa Cultural Center among many landmarks wrecked by two-month-old conflict

RIYADH: Since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, Israel’s war with the militant Palestinian group has wreaked unprecedented havoc on the Gaza Strip, demolishing entire neighborhoods and displacing more than a million people.

While the tragic loss of life is understandably being deplored in the strongest terms, people are not the only casualties. Cultural treasures — including libraries, art galleries and historical artifacts — are also being destroyed, meaning institutions that have offered Gaza’s civilian population respite from the trauma of occupation are being lost to the world.

And while many regional conflicts, from Mosul to Raqqa, have been followed by creative spaces and cultural institutions being rebuilt, while the conflict in Gaza continues, most cultural practitioners there are simply trying to survive.

The war has already claimed the lives of Palestinian intellectuals: Refaat Alareer, a 44-year-old Palestinian poet and University of Gaza professor, for example, was killed in an Israeli airstrike on Dec. 7.

“I am still alive, but without life,” one Gaza-based artist told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

Photos show the Omari Mosque, the oldest and biggest in Gaza, before and after it suffered damage, in the course of the Israel-Hamas war. (Social media)

“The situation is very, very difficult and terrifying. There was no simple food or drinking water available. We die slowly.” Several other artists and cultural practitioners Arab News tried to reach were unable to respond either due to poor network connection or for fear of their safety.

Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 240 taken hostage in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. A number of hostages were later released during a humanitarian pause. Health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza say Israel has killed more than 17,177 people in its retaliatory campaign, including about 7,000 children.

As of Saturday, Israeli troops and Hamas militants remained locked in deadly combat for control of Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-biggest city, with Palestinian civilians reportedly facing increasing difficulty in finding shelter and access to humanitarian aid.

Both the Gaza Municipal Library and the Rashad Al-Shawa Cultural Center — the latter was the site of a meeting between then-US President Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat 25 years ago — have been wrecked by shelling and firefights after nearly two months of war.

Israeli aircraft “targeted and turned the public library building into rubble and destroyed thousands of books, titles and documents recording the city’s history and development, as well as the destruction of the library’s language courses hall and other library facilities,” a Nov. 27 statement from Gaza Municipality read, also noting the destruction of the cultural center and the municipal printing press.

Objects damaged Al-Qarara Cultural Museum in Gaza. Founder and Director Mohammed Abu Leila said: “The museum was destroyed by the explosions nearby. Glass and Roman bottles, the facade of the building, as well as its doors and windows, were destroyed, and the ceilings were cracked. I am concerned about the museum and the collections.” (Supplied)

Fida Touma, director-general of the Ramallah-based A.M. Qattan Foundation, which supports the preservation of arts in Palestine and the Arab world, told Arab News that “there are no official listings of monuments/culture centers, as shelling has not stopped, and communications are cut.”

The International Council on Monuments and Sites stated on Facebook: “It is not possible to accurately determine or describe all damage. Homes, schools, hospitals, religious buildings, universities, museums, farm lands and other facilities have been destroyed. In addition to these acts of genocide, Israeli Minister of Heritage Amihai Ben-Eliyahu has publicly called for a nuclear bombing against Gaza.

“ICOMOS Palestine published a statement on Nov. 7 denouncing this statement. The Israelis used most of the weapons and war methods prohibited by the Geneva Convention and all relevant conventions. Their aim is to eradicate life in Gaza, as well as its heritage, history, memories and archives. Israel is ethnic cleansing the Palestinian people physically and erasing its history and memory.”


* Expansion of war in southern Gaza follows initial Israeli bombardment of areas in the north, including Gaza City.

* With Mediterranean Sea to the west, closed borders with Egypt and Israel to the south and east, space for people to go to is shrinking.

More than 100 cultural institutions in Gaza have been damaged as a result of the Israeli military offensive, according to a recent survey by the group Heritage for Peace. They include the Church of Saint Porphyrius, thought to be the third-oldest church in the world.

The Palestine Ministry of Culture had listed a number of sites in Arabic that it says are known to be destroyed or damaged. These include multiple educational and cultural centers, at least three public libraries and archives, Al-Zawiya market, the centuries-old Great Mosque of Gaza, and two museums.

Photos of the Rashad Al-Shawa Cultural Center, before and after they suffered damage, in the course of the Israel-Hamas war. (Social media)

Al-Qarara Cultural Museum founder and director Mohammed Abu Leila, who fled with his family to Rafah near the Egyptian border, described via WhatsApp how “we left the museum and migrated.”

He said: “There was heavy shelling and terrifying bombing after (midnight) until dawn. We saw death coming, with fear, horror, and pain. In the morning, we left the village and fled to the city of Khan Younis with my family, sister and wife.  Then we fled to the city of Rafah.”

Abu Leila said the museum’s collection of 5,000 pieces, spread across the outer yard, the ground floor and the first floor, includes stones, pottery, coins, documents, dresses, agricultural tools, and women’s ornaments.

“The museum was destroyed by the explosions nearby,” he told Arab News. “Glass and Roman bottles, the facade of the building, as well as its doors and windows, were destroyed, and the ceilings were cracked. I am concerned about the museum and the collections. I can feel it is in great danger.”

Some members of the Palestinian diaspora in North America are nevertheless trying to find ways to preserve Gaza’s culture and support artists from afar.

Seen here in a photo from the 1920s, the Church of Saint Porphyrius, above, is one of many cultural landmarks damaged by the war between Israel and Hamas. (Father Savignac/Ecole Biblique, Jerusalem/AFP)

On Nov. 21, the Palestine Museum in the US announced loan opportunities for original works by eight Gaza-based artists, saying in a statement: “This unique initiative aims to showcase the talent and creativity of Palestinian artists, while fostering cultural exchange and dialogue.”

The program also includes around 200 drawings created by children from Gaza, which explore “identity, resilience, resistance and hope” and “offer a unique glimpse into the world of Gaza’s children and their artistic expressions.”

Faisal Saleh, the museum’s founder and director, said that funds generated can help alleviate the desperate circumstances faced by many of Gaza’s artists, enabling them to sustain their creative practices.

“In the face of the devastating Israeli bombing campaign and the impact it has had on Gaza’s civilian infrastructure and population, it is vital that we stand in solidarity with Gaza artists and provide them with platforms to showcase their incredible talent,” Saleh told Arab News.

French archaeologists at a French Palestinian archaeological storage site in Gaza City. (File photo by Fadel Al-Utol)

“Art has a unique power to transcend borders and ignite empathy and understanding, and we believe that by amplifying the voices of Gaza artists, we can contribute to a broader dialogue and raise awareness about the situation on the ground in Gaza.

“We call upon museums and art institutions worldwide to join us in supporting Gaza artists by participating in our art loan program and providing opportunities for their work to be showcased and appreciated,” he continued. “Together, we can use the transformative power of art to create meaningful change and rebuild a brighter future for Gaza’s artistic community.”

While outside efforts offer some hope of keeping Palestinian art — whether ancient, modern or contemporary — alive, the war is taking a tragic toll.

As another artist in Gaza told Arab News on condition of anonymity, “We are simply trying to survive. We have no food, no water, no art right now.”

Iraq’s Kataeb Hezbollah vows more attacks on US forces

Updated 2 min 59 sec ago

Iraq’s Kataeb Hezbollah vows more attacks on US forces

  • Iran-aligned group has not claimed responsibility for rare attack on US embassy in Baghdad

BAGHDAD: Attacks by Iraq’s Kataeb Hezbollah militia against US interests on Friday are the start of “new rules of engagement,” a security official from the group said in a social media post.
The Iran-aligned group, while not claiming responsibility for a rare attack on the US embassy in Baghdad on Friday, claimed the embassy was a forward operating base for planning military operations.
The attack was condemned by the US and by Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, who said it was an act of terrorism against a diplomatic mission.
But Kataeb Hezbollah (KH) said the facility was a base involved in planning military operations. Those who described it as a diplomatic mission were “subservient” and self-interested, Abu Ali Al-Askari, a security official from the group, said in a social media post.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a Friday call with Sudani, singled out KH and another group, Haraket Hezbollah Al-Nujaba, for the recent targeting of US personnel and said the US reserved its right to respond.
US officials have reported more than 80 attacks against US interest in Iraq and Syria since mid-October, most claimed by an umbrella-group of Iran-aligned Iraqi militias over Washington’s backing of Israel in its war in Gaza.
The group, which goes by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, claimed 11 attacks against US forces on Friday, the most in a single day since they began in mid-October.
Sudani has ordered security forces to investigate the embassy attack and on Saturday replaced the regiment in charge of security in Baghdad’s highly fortified Green Zone area where the attacks occurred, according to his office.
In an apparent challenge to Sudani, KH said that members of Iraq’s security forces that were cooperating with US forces were “accomplices in its crimes.”
As well as diplomatic staff in Iraq, the United States has about 2,500 troops in the country on a mission it says aims to advise and assist local forces battling remnants of Islamic State, which in 2014 seized large swathes of both Iraq and Syria before being defeated.