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U.S. and British forces have hit Iran-backed Huthi rebel military targets in Yemen -- -- an action immediately condemned by Tehran -- sparking fears around the world of a growing conflict in the Middle East as fighting rages in the Gaza Strip.

U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement that the move was meant to show that the United States and its allies “will not tolerate” the Iran-backed rebel group’s increasing number of attacks in the Red Sea, which have threatened freedom of navigation and endangered U.S. personnel and civilian navigation.

The rebels said that the air strikes, which occurred in an area already shaken by Israel's war with Hamas, a group designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union, totaled 73 and killed at least five people.

"Today, at my direction, U.S. military forces -- together with the United Kingdom and with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands -- successfully conducted strikes against a number of targets in Yemen used by Huthi rebels to endanger freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most vital waterways," Biden said in a statement.

“These strikes are in direct response to unprecedented Huthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea -- including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history,” Biden said of the international mission that also involved Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Biden approved the strikes after a Huthi attack on January 9. U.S. and British naval forces repelled that attack, shooting down drones and missiles fired by the Huthis from Yemen toward the southern Red Sea.

Kirby said the United States does not want war with Yemen or a conflict of any kind but will not hesitate to take further action.

"Everything the president has been doing has been trying to prevent any escalation of conflict, including the strikes last night," he said.

The UN Security Council called an emergency meeting for later on January 12 over the strikes. The session was requested by Russia and will take place after a meeting to discuss the situation in Gaza.

Huthi rebels have stepped up attacks on vessels in the Red Sea since Israel launched its war on Hamas over the group's surprise cross-border attack on October 7 that killed some 1,200 Israelis and saw dozens more taken hostage.

The Huthis have claimed their targeting of navigation in the Red Sea is meant to show the group's support for the Palestinians and Hamas.

Thousands of the rebels held protests in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, where they chanted “We aren’t discouraged. Let it be a major world war!”

The White House said Huthi acts of piracy have affected more than 50 countries and forced more than 2,000 ships to make detours of thousands of kilometers to avoid the Red Sea. It said crews from more than 20 countries were either taken hostage or threatened by Huthi piracy.

Kirby said a "battle damage assessment" to determine how much the Huthi capabilities had been degraded was ongoing.

Britain said sites including airfields had been hit. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is still hospitalized following complications from prostate cancer surgery, said earlier the strikes were aimed at Huthi drones, ballistic, and cruise missiles, as well as coastal radar and air surveillance capabilities.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the strikes were "necessary and proportionate."

"Despite the repeated warnings from the international community, the Huthis have continued to carry out attacks in the Red Sea," Sunak said in a statement.

Iran immediately condemned the attacks saying they would bring further turbulence to the Middle East.

"We strongly condemn the military attacks carried out this morning by the United States and the United Kingdom on several cities in Yemen," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kannani said in a post on Telegram.

"These arbitrary actions are a clear violation of Yemen's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and a violation of international laws and regulations. These attacks will only contribute to insecurity and instability in the region," he added.

A Huthi spokesman said the attacks were unjustified and the rebels will keep targeting ships heading toward Israel.

The Huthis, whose slogan is "Death to America, Death to Israel, curse the Jews and victory to Islam," are part of what has been described as the Iran-backed axis of resistance that also includes anti-Israel and anti-Western militias such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Huthi rebels have fought Yemen's government for decades. In 2014, they took the capital, Sanaa.

While Iran has supplied them with weapons and aid, the Huthis say they are not Tehran's puppets and their main goal is to topple Yemen's "corrupt" leadership.

With reporting by Reuters and dpa

This content originally appeared on News - Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and was authored by News - Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.


[1] آمریکا دوباره مواضع شبه نظامیان حوثی را در یمن هدف قرار داد ➤[2] Statement from President Joe Biden on Coalition Strikes in Houthi-Controlled Areas in Yemen | The White House ➤[3] سخنگو – Telegram ➤