Cameron warns Houthis after strikes on bases that fired at Red Sea ships

Fears of a regional widening of the Israel-Gaza war are mounting following air strikes in Yemen

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British Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has said the overnight attack on Yemeni targets by the US and UK was “necessary, legal and right” and warned the Houthi faction responsible for Red Sea attacks that their actions are completely unacceptable.

Speaking in London, the former prime minister said freedom of navigation rights in the Red Sea must be protected and it was right to fire on the bases used as launch pads for the 27 attacks on international shipping since November.

The intervention came as the British government awaits reaction on the ground to the operation.

Officials said attacks on Houthi targets in Yemen were intended as a one-off, with no more expected in the near future.

Sites used by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen were bombed overnight, in a massive retaliatory strike using fighter jets and Tomahawk missiles launched from warships and submarines, officials said. The strikes killed five people and wounded six, the Houthis said.

Houthis vow to retaliate after US and UK strikes in Yemen

Houthis vow to retaliate after US and UK strikes in Yemen

“There will be no second strike,” a government official said. “It is one strike against them and that’s it. We are going to do nothing to escalate this, this is not the start of a war.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, speaking from Kyiv where he is meeting President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said the UK needed to send a “strong signal” that Houthi rebel attacks in the Red Sea were wrong and could not be carried out with “impunity”.

He said the overnight strikes would “degrade and disrupt” the Houthis' capability.

“The types of things that we’ve targeted are launch sites for missiles and for drones. Initial indications are that those strikes have been successful. We’ll continue to monitor the situation,” he said.

“But it’s clear that this type of behaviour can’t be met without a response. We need to send a strong signal that this breach of international law is wrong. People can’t act like this with impunity and that’s why together, with allies, we’ve decided to take this action.”

Downing Street said that the strikes against the Houthis may not immediately make the Red Sea safer for commercial shipping but would have a “positive effect” in the “longer term”.

It rejected criticism that the strikes against the Houthis were not proportionate.

A spokeswoman for the prime minister also rejected claims by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the UK and the US were trying to turn the Red Sea into a “sea of blood”.

“This was limited and targeted strikes in response to aggression,” she said. “We acted in self-defence in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter.”

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey also dismissed concerns after criticism from Russia, which on Friday requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council concerning the bombing.

“Nobody should see this as part of anything bigger,” he said.

The UK and US launch strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen

The UK and US launch strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen

A high-ranking Houthi official, Ali Al Qahoum, vowed there would be retaliation.

“The battle will be bigger … and beyond the imagination and expectation of the Americans and the British,” he said in a post on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

The 27 attacks in the Red Sea have used drones and missiles since November 19 to target vessels in the straits as well as the US-led Operation Prosperity Guardian.

Hamas also warned of “repercussions” after the coalition operation.

“We vigorously condemn the flagrant American-British attack on Yemen,” the group said on Telegram on Friday. “We hold them responsible for the repercussions on regional security.”

Lord Ricketts, who served as the UK's first national security adviser, said the strikes against Houthi rebels were “necessary” and “inevitable”.

“The final straw was that very complex and dangerous attack on the naval task force itself a couple of nights ago, I think at that point they couldn't allow this to continue,” he told the BBC.

Germany's Foreign Office on Friday said the overnight bombing was meant to prevent further attacks in the Red Sea, while France blamed the Houthis for the escalation.

“Through these armed actions, the Houthis bear the extremely heavy responsibility for the regional escalation,” the French Foreign Ministry said, urging the rebel group to “immediately end” the attacks.

Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, said on Friday that the US-British action was “based on the right of self-defence, aims to protect free passage and is focused on de-escalation”.

Belgium's Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said the country was working with its partners in the EU and the US to restore security in the Red Sea region and avoid any spillover.

Writing on X, she said: “The ongoing attacks by the Houthis are a real danger for the stability of the region and represent an escalation that benefits no one.”

According to Reuters, Italy had declined to take part in the strikes because Rome preferred to pursue a “calming” policy in the Red Sea.

Shipping company Maersk has said it hopes international interventions and a larger naval presence in the area will eventually lead to maritime commerce resuming through Bab Al Mandeb, the strait between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

Updated: January 12, 2024, 2:22 PM