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.
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.
Hamas welcomed the rebels’ “courageous and bold” decision.
“We call on Arab and Muslim countries to use all their capabilities, based on their historical responsibilities and in the spirit of chivalry, to lift the siege of Gaza,” it added in a statement sent to AFP.
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.”
The French military said Sunday that one of its frigates shot down two drones in the Red Sea that were heading towards it from Yemen’s coast.
“The interception and destruction of these two identified threats” were carried out late Saturday by the frigate Languedoc, which operates in the Red Sea, the general staff said in a press release.
The interceptions occurred at 2030 GMT and 2230 GMT, it added, and were 110 km (68 miles) from the Yemeni coast.
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.