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U.N. panel demands Iran-backed Yemen rebels cease Red Sea attacks

The U.N. Security Council resolution condemned Houthi attacks in shipping lanes for a second time this year.

Fishing boats in Yemen's western Al Hudaydah province
Fishing boats in Yemen's western Al Hudaydah province that includes the country's principal port along the southern Red Sea (Ammar Mahmood/Unsplash)

 The U.N. Security Council called on Yemen’s Houthi rebels to immediately stop attacking ships – its second such demand this year, after the first went unheeded – and called for urgent international action.

The 15-nation panel's resolution on Thursday described the Iran-backed rebels' attacks as a maritime threat but did not repeat their claims they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza due to the Israel-Hamas war.

The council's resolution condemned the conflicts in Yemen that are "contributing to regional tensions and the disruption to maritime security," and extended a requirement that U.N. chief António Guterres report monthly on the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

Council members Algeria, China and Russia abstained from the 12-vote, which amplified a previous resolution in January condemning and demanding an immediate halt to Houthi attacks.

"The Houthis have not heeded this resolution, and in recent weeks have launched additional complex attacks against vessels in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and surrounding waterways," U.S. deputy ambassador Robert Wood said after the vote on behalf of the U.S. and Japan. "These attacks threaten international peace and security with negative implications for global commerce and flows of humanitarian assistance."

Wood said attacks on any vessels in the Red Sea, regardless of origin or ownership, are entirely unacceptable, and the threat to navigational rights and freedoms in the Red Sea "is a global challenge and necessitates a global response."

U.S. Naval Institute graphic on Houthi attacks on merchant shipping
U.S. Naval Institute

Nine years of conflict

Since January, a U.S.-led airstrike campaign has targeted the Houthis, which the United States has designated as global terrorists. Russia’s deputy ambassador Anna Evstigneeva said that campaign was exloiting the council's January resolution to launch its own attacks on the Houthis.

“We urge all participants in the coalition to immediately halt illegal attacks and to transition to political and diplomatic means to reduce tensions in the waters adjacent to Yemen,” she said.

China’s deputy U.N. ambassador Geng Shuang said her nation abstained from the vote because the resolution could bring "negative consequences and lead to further escalation of regional tensions.”

The Houthis have launched missile and drone attacks on more than 60 vessels in shipping lanes crucial for Asian, European, and Middle East since last year.

The Houthis say the attacks are linked to undermining support for Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom, in the wake of Hamas’ surprise attack on Oct. 7.

The group has said it will not stop its attacks until Israel ends its war on Gaza. But experts say the attacks are as much about the Houthis consolidating power in Yemen as they are about what is happening in Gaza.

Yemen has been consumed by civil war since 2014, when the Iran-backed Houthis overran the capital, Sanaa, and northern areas.

A Western-backed alliance of Sunni Muslim Arab nations, led by Saudi Arabia, tried to prop up the government of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was driven from Sanaa by the militia in 2015.

Since then the conflict has become a proxy war reflecting the tensions between Sunnis and Shias that are exploited by regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.

A truce negotiated in April 2022 brought less violence and some relief in the country's dire humanitarian situation.

"After nine years of conflict and with truce conditions largely holding in 2023, hope remains that a peaceful settlement of the conflict is within reach," says the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which calculates that 18.2 million people – more than half the country's population, needs aid and protection. "However, the needs in Yemen remain immense."