An Israeli-linked cargo ship in the Red Sea was hijacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who took 25 crew members hostage, according to Israeli officials.
A spokesperson for Yemen’s Houthi group confirmed on Sunday the rebels captured the ship and took the crew members as hostage due to the ship’s ties to Israel.
“The Yemeni armed forces reiterate their warning to all ships belonging to or dealing with the Israeli enemy that they will become a legitimate target for armed forces,” Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree wrote in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The Houthis, who are supported by Iran, are currently in a cease-fire amid a civil war with the Yemeni government.
Saree said armed forces will continue military operations against Israel until the country ends its campaign against militant group Hamas, which launched a surprise assault on southern Israel last month. Those attacks left over 1,200 people dead, including hundreds of civilians.
The Office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the attack against the vessel and claimed the Houthis were responsible.
“This is another act of Iranian terrorism and constitutes a leap forward in Iran’s aggression against the citizens of the free world, with international consequences regarding the security of the global shipping lanes,” the prime minister’s office wrote in a statement.
Netanyahu’s office said none of the 25 crew members aboard were Israeli, but were of various nationalities including Ukrainian, Filipino and Mexican.
Saree claimed the “armed forces” were treating the crew members “in accordance with their Islamic values,” without providing further details.
The Israeli prime minister’s office claimed the ship, called the Galaxy Leader, is owned by a British company and operated by a Japanese firm, though public shipping databases show the ship’s owners associated with Ray Car Carriers, founded by Israeli billionaire Abraham “Rama” Ungar, the AP reported.
The incident is likely to further fuel concerns over third-parties, like Iran and its proxies, using the conflict between Israel and Hamas, which is backed by Iran, to engage in a separate front against Israel and escalate conflict in the region.
Israel responded to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks with a bombardment of Hamas-ruled Gaza and recently ramped up ground attacks in the northern part of the enclave. Over 13,000 Palestinians have been killed in the violence, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run government. These numbers cannot be independently verified.
“Houthi militants’ seizure of the motor vessel Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea is a flagrant violation of international law,” a U.S. military official told The Hill. “We demand the immediate release of the ship and its crew.”
Sunday’s seizure follows at least two incidents where U.S. warships intercepted missiles or drones from Yemen that were believed to be going towards Israel or American vessels. Last week, a U.S. Navy warship shot down a drone heading towards the ship in the southern Red Sea, according to the AP.
Last month, the Pentagon said a U.S. Navy destroyer intercepted a barrage of missiles fired by Houthi rebels, according to the Pentagon.
This comes amid a reported uptick in attacks against American troops and assets in the Middle East, prompting the U.S. to launch a series of retaliatory strikes on assets belonging to Iran and its proxies.
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