July 8, 2019 / 3:59 PM / 9 days ago

Saudi-led coalition says it foiled Red Sea ship attack, Houthis deny

RIYADH (Reuters) - Naval forces from the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen foiled an attempted attack on an unidentified commercial ship in the southern Red Sea on Monday by the Iran-aligned Houthis, which the group denied.

Spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said the Western-backed military alliance had destroyed an unmanned boat laden with explosives which the militants had used for the attack, Saudi state news agency SPA reported without providing more details.

A Houthi military spokesman denied targeting commercial shipping in the area, the group’s Al Masirah TV reported, calling the claims “pure slander and completely baseless”.

Yemen’s four-year war is largely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and arch-foe Iran. The impoverished country lies along the Bab al-Mandeb strait at the southern mouth of the Red Sea, one of the most important trade routes for oil tankers heading from the Middle East to Europe.

Last year, Saudi Arabia paused oil shipments through Bab al-Mandeb for more than a week after the Houthis attacked two ships in the waterway. The strait is only 20 km (12 miles) wide, making hundreds of ships easy potential targets.

Attacks on oil tankers in May and June on the other side of the Arabian Peninsula, near the Strait of Hormuz, and Tehran’s downing of a U.S. unmanned drone have aggravated tensions between the United States and Iran in recent months.

Washington and Riyadh have blamed Tehran for the attacks, which Iran has denied.

Reporting By Stephen Kalin and Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Catherine Evans, William Maclean and Alison Williams

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