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DUBAI/ADEN/LONDON: Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis will escalate their attacks on ships in the Red Sea and other waters and has introduced “submarine weapons”, in continued solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war, the group’s leader said on Thursday.

Iran-aligned Houthi in Yemen have launched repeated drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandab Strait and Gulf of Aden since November in support of Palestinians, as the Israel-Hamas war continues and the Gaza death toll reaches almost 30,000.

“Operations in the Red and Arabian Seas, Bab al-Mandab Strait, and the Gulf of Aden are continuing, escalating, and effective,” Abdulmalik al-Houthi added in a televised speech. He gave no details of the submarine weapons.

The group’s strikes are disrupting a route accounting for about 12% of global maritime traffic and forcing firms to take a longer, more expensive route around Africa.

The leader’s speech came the same day the Houthis sent shippers and insurers formal notice of what they termed a ban on vessels linked to Israel, the US and Britain from sailing in surrounding seas, seeking to reinforce their military campaign in support of Palestinians.

The Houthis’ communication, the first to the shipping industry outlining a ban, came in the form of two notices from the Houthis’ newly-dubbed Humanitarian Operations Coordination Center sent to shipping insurers and firms.

Ships that are wholly or partially owned by Israeli individuals or entities and Israel-flagged vessels, or are owned by US or British individuals or entities, or sailing under their flags, are banned from the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea, Thursday’s notices said.

“The Humanitarian Operations Center was established in Sanaa to coordinate the safe and peaceful passage of ships and vessels that have no connection to Israel,” a senior Houthi official told Reuters on Thursday.

COSTS ROCKETING

The attacks have already sent shipping costs rocketing, and the Houthi agency’s newly-formalised remit could further affect prices.

Earlier on Thursday, two missiles set ablaze a ship some 70 nautical miles southeast of Aden, Yemen, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency said. The vessel and crew were reported safe and proceeding to the next port of call, it said in a later update.

The UK-owned, Palau-flagged ship, the Islander, was en route to Egypt from Thailand, according to maritime security firm Ambrey and its analytics branch and ship tracking data.

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