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Air strikes send ‘clearest possible message’ to Houthis, says Cameron

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea are ‘unacceptable’ (Valdrin Xhemaj/PA)
Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea are ‘unacceptable’ (Valdrin Xhemaj/PA)

The latest round of UK and allied strikes against Houthi targets was designed to “send the clearest possible message” to the rebels that attacks on cargo ships are “unacceptable”, the Foreign Secretary said.

Britain joined the US in carrying out a fresh set of joint air strikes in Yemen in response to the Houthi rebels targeting international shipping along vital Red Sea and Gulf of Aden trade routes.

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said UK armed forces will “continue to degrade” the Houthis’ ability to carry out attacks as long as their “completely indiscriminate” campaign of harassment in the Middle East continues.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is set to update MPs during an appearance in the Commons on Tuesday.

Lord Cameron said the UK had renewed its military action against the Iran-backed Houthis due to attacks on cargo ships continuing.

London and Washington targeted rebel sites overnight on January 11-12, with further US attacks in recent days.

Despite the Western intervention, ships have continued to be targeted along the major global trade route which provides access to the Suez Canal, a thoroughfare that serves 15% of world shipping.

International freight companies have been forced to reroute cargo vessels around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, resulting in longer and more costly journeys.

The Foreign Secretary, speaking to broadcasters on Tuesday, said: “Since we last took action 10 days ago, there have been over 12 attacks on shipping by the Houthis in the Red Sea.

“These attacks are illegal, they are unacceptable.

“What we have done again is send the clearest possible message that we will continue to degrade their ability to carry out these attacks while sending the clearest possible message that we back our words and our warnings with action.”

The US military confirmed the latest strikes were against eight targets.

The Ministry of Defence said four Royal Air Force Typhoons and a pair of Voyager tankers were involved in the latest action.

The department said several targets were hit at two military sites near the Sanaa airfield in Yemen.

Officials stated that a “very rigorous analysis” was carried out to avoid civilian casualties.

Labour figures said Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer was not alerted before Monday’s allied action, while the PA news agency understands Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle was not either, unlike when the UK first carried out joint strikes with the US earlier this month.

Shadow health minister Karin Smyth told GB News that the Government “haven’t spoken to us on the usual terms” ahead of the assault.

Conservative Government minister Huw Merriman disputed that, telling LBC: “They (Sir Keir and Sir Lindsay) were both informed, is my understanding.

“The Prime Minister will be in the House of Commons today, as he was on the previous day following the first round, to account to Parliament.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said it is “deeply disappointing” that Parliament is being “bypassed” by the Prime Minister on the Red Sea response.

Sir Ed, who stated that his party backs the strikes “so long as they remain limited”, said: “It is absolutely vital that Parliament has an opportunity to have its say, via a debate and a vote.

“The Prime Minister has so far failed to grant either.

“It is deeply disappointing that elected representatives are being bypassed on an issue as important as military action.”

The UK Government has warned that the latest strikes in the Red Sea will “not just be a one-off” if the Houthis continue to disrupt international shipping.

Mr Merriman told Sky News: “For us to take action and then the Houthis respond, and then we do nothing, would send out the completely wrong signal.

Labour Party
Labour says it was not told about the latest air strikes on Houthi targets ahead of time (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“So, this demonstrates that we will be tough and we will take all measures required against the Houthis to protect international shipping and protect the lives of those who operate those ships.

“We will deliver whatever it takes to the Houthis to ensure that they desist, so we hope the message is now clear, this being a second time.”

Mr Sunak and US President Joe Biden spoke on Monday evening, with a Downing Street readout stating that the two leaders agreed to “continue efforts alongside international partners to deter and disrupt” attacks by the Houthis.

A joint statement issued by Australia, Bahrain, Canada, the Netherlands, the UK and the US described the strikes as “proportionate and necessary”.

The statement said the mission targeted a Houthi underground storage site as well as locations linked to the group’s missile and air surveillance capabilities.

Red Sea shipping attacks
RAF Typhoon aircraft were involved in Monday’s air strikes on Houthi targets (Sgt Lee Goddard/MoD/Crown Copyright)

While the US, UK and other Western allies have insisted the strikes are not escalatory, it comes as tensions simmer in the Middle East as the Israeli bombardment of Gaza continues.

The Houthis, a Shia rebel group that has held Sanaa since 2014 and been at war with a Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s exiled government since 2015, have linked their attacks to the Israel-Hamas war.

However, the ships they have targeted increasingly have tenuous links to Israel – or none at all.

Lord Cameron said the West “shouldn’t accept the Houthi narrative” that their actions have been targeting shipping with ties to Tel Aviv.

He said: “What the Houthis are doing is attacking shipping indiscriminately and effectively trying to close a vital sea lane, whereas we want to keep that sea lane open.”

The Cabinet minister stressed there is “no quarrel with the Yemeni people”, pointing to the UK providing the war-torn country with aid, through a “sea lane that the Houthis are trying to close”, which feeds more than 100,000 people a month.