Houthis grant 'safe passages' for Russian, Chinese vessels amid Red Sea chaos

Houthis grant 'safe passages' for Russian, Chinese vessels amid Red Sea chaos
A Houthi spokesperson said that Russian and Chinese ships are not under threat in the Red Sea, as the rebel groups carries out attacks on Israel-linked ships.
3 min read
19 January, 2024
Houthi rebels have carried out attacks against Israel-linked ships in response to the war in Gaza [Getty/file photo]

Russian and Chinese vessels will be granted safe passage through the Red Sea, a senior spokesperson for Yemen’s Houthi group confirmed on Friday, amid a spate of attacks on shipping in the region.

Mohammed al-Bukhaiti said that waters surrounding Yemen are safe as long as vessels are not associated to certain countries, particularly Israel, in an interview with Russian outlet Izvestia.

The Iran-backed Houthis fired missiles at ships in the Red Sea area, allegedly in response to Israel’s deadly military onslaught in the Gaza Strip, which has so far killed close to 25,000 Palestinians, the vast majority women and children.

"As for all other countries, including Russia and China, their shipping in the region is not threatened," al-Bukhaiti confirmed.

"Moreover, we are ready to ensure the safe passage of their ships in the Red Sea, because free navigation plays a significant role for our country."

The US and UK have responded with a series of attacks on Houthi interests in Yemen, provoking anger in the country.

Senior officials from the Iran-backed rebels confirmed that such incidents wouldn't go "unpunished" and labelled Washington and London-linked ships "fair game" after the two countries launched air strikes on the rebels.

Additionally, al-Bukhaiti added that attacks against Israel-affiliated ships "will continue", while spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam stressed that attacks will not be extended to regional foes Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

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Earlier this week, the US went on to designate the Iran-backed rebels as a "terrorist group".

In Friday's interview, al-Bukhaiti said the blame for the shipping attacks rested with the vessels that ignored "Houthi orders to change course".

"Ansar Allah does not pursue the goal of capturing or sinking this or that sea vessel," he said, using the group's official name.

"Our goal is to raise the economic costs for the Jewish state in order to stop the carnage in Gaza."

Bukhaiti went on to defend the group's capture in November of the Galaxy Leader - a merchant vessel linked to an Israeli businessman - as "a precautionary step for everyone else to follow our requirements".

The ship's crew, who are still being held, "are fine, and we are giving them a warm welcome", he added.

Many Western shipping firms are avoiding Yemeni waters and using alternative routes due to such attacks. Additionally, many global businesses have expressed concerns over the economic impact such incidents could have.

Oil giant Shell, for example, said that there would be at least a 5-10 percent price impact in the short-term, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

Elsewhere, Egypt is reportedly discussing with Iran and the Houthis over ways to contain the rapidly rising fallout as a result of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal attacks, as Cairo's economy is also reeling from their impact.

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Egypt, according to security sources cited The New Arab's Arabic-language site Al-Alaraby Al-Jadeed, has reportedly held talks with the Houthis assuring them it would not participate in any air strikes against them.

The rebels also said that Egyptian ships are safe since the Houthis are only targeting Israel-linked ships.

Officials from Cairo also stressed that pushing for "a solution bringing an end to the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip" is "more of a priority".