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Explained: Who are Houthis of Yemen and why are they attacking ships in Red Sea?

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Houthis attacks in Red Sea: The increasing attacks by Yemen’s Houthis, an Iran-backed rebel group, in the Red Sea of the Gulf of Aden have adversely affected global trade as some of the world’s biggest shipping companies have announced to avoid the area. The Houthis or Huthis have been attacking ships passing through the Bab al-Mandab Strait at the southern end of the Red Sea ever since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

A Houthi fighter stands on the Galaxy Leader cargo ship in the Red Sea(via REUTERS)
A Houthi fighter stands on the Galaxy Leader cargo ship in the Red Sea(via REUTERS)

The US military on Sunday claimed that a crude oil tanker was among two vessels that came under drone attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the Southern Red Sea. Meanwhile, the US has shot down four drones launched from Houthi-controlled areas which were headed towards a US destroyer in the Red Sea.

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Who are Houthi rebels?

The Houthis are an armed group originating from Yemen’s northwestern Saada province. They practice the Zaydi form of Shiism and take their name from the movement’s founder Hussein al Houthi. Reportedly, the group was formed in the 1990s to combat what they saw as the corruption of the then-president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2003, Saleh tried to eliminate the Iran-backed group, however, the Houthis repelled him and Saudi Arabia’s military.

Notably, Houthis have control over a major part of Sanaa and the north of Yemen, as well as the Red Sea coastline.

Hezbollah controls the Houthis

The Houthi rebels are controlled by Lebanon’s Hezbollah group who have been providing them with extensive military training since 2014, according to a report by the BBC.

Why are the Houthis attacking ships in the Red Sea?

The situation in the Red Sea and nearby areas has become extremely critical as the Houthis have threatened to hit any target that is passing through. The attacks began after the Israel-Hamas war on October 7 when the Houthis declared their support for Hamas and said they would attack any ship travelling to Israel. Since then, they have attacked several commercial vessels with drones and ballistic missiles – even though it was not clear whether the ships were Israeli cargo.

In retaliation to the attacks, the US military has launched an international naval operation to protect the ships in the region. Several other countries including the UK, Canada, France, Spain, Bahrain, and Norway have joined the operation.

According to former ambassador Anil Trigunayat, the attacks are very dangerous for the world since trade supplies are being affected. He said that India’s 20 per cent of trade passes through the critical region.

(With inputs from agencies)

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