The Arab coalition fighting on behalf of the internationally-recognised government in Yemen said that it had thwarted an attack on a Saudi oil tanker by Houthi rebels near the Red Sea port of Hodeidah.
“In a blatant violation of international law, the Iranian-Houthi militia on Saturday attempted an attack by three remote-controlled drone boats, targeting a Saudi oil tanker and threatening to disrupt navigation in Bab Al Mandeb strait,” Col Turki Al Malki, spokesman of the coalition, said in a statement on Wednesday.
He said that the coalition destroyed the boats carrying explosives as they headed towards the vessel.
“Houthi-Iranian militias are using the Hodeidah port not only for smuggling advanced weaponry, but also as a launch pad for attacks on international ships,” Col Al Malki said.
Yemen lies on the southern mouth of the Red Sea, which is one of the world’s most important trade routes for oil tankers that pass its shores as they head from the Middle East through the Suez Canal to Europe.
Col Al Malki said that the UN should take the initiative and take control of the port from the Iran-backed rebel group.
"There is no doubt that the port has now become a starting point for terrorist operations to threaten the maritime navigation in the Red Sea and the Bab Al Mandeb strait," Col Al Malki said on Wednesday in his weekly conference at King Salman Base in Riyadh.
"The Iran-backed militias are training their member terrorists on targeting marine navigation in the Red Sea and the straits of Bab Al Mandeb."
The Arab coalition — which includes the UAE — intervened in the Yemen civil war in 2015 to fight on behalf the legitimate government of president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi against the Houthi rebels. The coalition accuses Iran and the Tehran-backed Lebanese militia Hizbollah of arming and training the rebels.
The attack on the Saudi tanker came as coalition-backed government forces close in on Hodeidah port, with several rebels reported killed or captured in an offensive on Thursday.
"Our forces backed by the UAE forces carried out a military operation and stormed rebel pockets to the east of Al Khoukhah and Yakhtal," said Aseel Al Sakladi, media officer of the Al Amalikah brigade.
"Twelve Houthis were killed and others were injured, while other Houthi militants were arrested in Al Katabah area by the public resistance in Tehama region," he said.
Meanwhile, captured Houthi rebels have confirmed that they were receiving training from Lebanese fighters in their home province of Saada, according to a Yemeni military officer.
Lt Mohammed Al Nakeeb, spokesman for the 4th military zone, told The National that a Houthi fighter arrested on Monday in the area between between Taez and Lahj provinces in southern Yemen had said his brigade was trained by a Lebanese soldier known to them only as "Sajed".
Lt Al Nakeeb quoted the captured fighter as saying that after training, the rebels "were distributed over battlefronts in Taez, Hodeidah and Jawf provinces".