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U.S., Britain strike Houthi targets after surge in Red Sea shipping attacks

An American warplane is shown embarking on a bombing mission targeting Iran-backed Houthi forces in Yemen on Saturday in a photo supplied by the Pentagon. Photo courtesy U.S. Central Command/X
An American warplane is shown embarking on a bombing mission targeting Iran-backed Houthi forces in Yemen on Saturday in a photo supplied by the Pentagon. Photo courtesy U.S. Central Command/X

Feb. 25 (UPI) -- The United States and Britain say they have carried out a fresh round of airstrikes targeting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen who have increased their attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

The U.S. Defense Department said Saturday that American and British warplanes, supported by Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, struck 18 targets in areas of Yemen controlled by the Houthis, beginning at 11:50 p.m. local time.

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It marked the fourth time allied Western forces have carried out bombing raids against the Shiite Houthi group, who in recent days have been ramping up their targeting of commercial and naval vessels deemed to be supporting Israel in its miliary campaign against the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

"These strikes from this multilateral coalition targeted areas used by the Houthis to attack international merchant vessels and naval ships in the region," the Pentagon said in a joint statement issued with its allies. "Illegal Houthi attacks have disrupted humanitarian aid bound for Yemen, harmed Middle Eastern economies, and caused environmental damage."

The American military said the targets included Houthi underground weapons storage facilities, missile storage facilities, one-way attack unmanned aerial systems, air defense systems, radars, and a helicopter.

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"These strikes are intended to degrade Houthi capability and disrupt their continued reckless and unlawful attacks on international commercial and U.S. and U.K. vessels in the Red Sea, Bab AI-Mandeb Strait, and the Gulf of Aden," the statement read.

British Defense Minister Grant Schapps confirmed the strikes, saying it is "our duty to protect lives at sea and preserve freedom on navigation."

Schapps said the strikes were undertaken in the wake of "severe Houthi attacks" against commercial shipping in recent days, including against the British-owned M/V Islander and M/V Rubymar, whose crew was forced to abandon ship.

"We acted alongside our allies to further degrade Houthi drones and launchers used to mount their dangerous attacks," the defense minister said. "I thank the brave British personnel involved for their service."

The crew of a British bulk carrier M/V Rubymar was forced to abandon ship last week after it was struck by two missiles fired by Houthi rebels.

The dawn missile strikes on Feb. 19 badly damaged the engine room of the 32,000 ton ship as it was transiting the 20-mile-wide Bab al-Mandab Strait, and with doubts whether it would remain afloat the decision to abandon ship was made to ensure the safety of the crew.

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Houthi forces have launched more than 45 attacks on commercial and naval vessels in the region since mid-November, according to the Pentagon.

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