September 19, 2019 / 4:22 PM / 25 days ago

Arab coalition says foiled Houthi attack in Red Sea off Yemen

DUBAI (Reuters) - The Saudi-led coalition said it intercepted and destroyed an explosives-laden boat launched from Yemen by the Iran-aligned Houthi group on Thursday, an incident that could further increase regional tensions after a weekend attack on Saudi oil installations.

“The coalition’s naval forces detected an attempt by the terrorist Houthi militia backed by Iran to carry out an imminent act of aggression and terrorism south of the Red Sea using an unmanned, rigged boat ... launched from Hodeidah province,” coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said in a statement.

He did not specify the intended target.

There was no immediate confirmation by the Houthi movement, which had claimed responsibility for the Sept. 14 attacks on Saudi oil facilities. Riyadh has rejected the claim and said those strikes did not come from Yemen.

The Houthis, who have threatened to widen attacks on Saudi Arabia, have in the past targeted vessels off Yemen, which lies on one side of the Bab al-Mandeb strait at the southern mouth of the Red Sea, one of the world’s most vital oil tanker routes.

In July 2018, the group attacked two Saudi tankers in the Red Sea, one of which sustained minimal damage. Riyadh responded by temporarily suspending oil shipments through the strait, which the Houthis have in the past threatened to block.

Malki said Thursday’s foiled attack represented a threat to regional and international security and the safety of maritime routes and international trade.

The incident comes as the United States and Saudi Arabia consider responses to Saturday’s assault on Saudi oil facilities, which Washington and Riyadh blame on common foe Iran. Tehran denies any involvement.

The Western-backed, Sunni Muslim coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis after they ousted the internationally recognized government in Sanaa in late 2014.

The group, which says it is fighting a corrupt system, controls Sanaa, the capital, and most big urban centers including Hodeidah city, where a U.N.-brokered truce has largely held since last December.

The escalating tension could hamper United Nations efforts to implement a stalled troop withdrawal deal in the main port of Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis, that was agreed at peace talks in Sweden last year.

The Yemen conflict, largely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has killed tens of thousands and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli and Ghaida Ghantous; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler

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