Dubai: Yemen’s Iran-backed Al Houthi militants have threatened to block traffic across the Red Sea unless a blockade by a regional military alliance is lifted, prompting fresh accusations Tuesday of “terrorism” by their rivals.
UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash, whose country is a key member in a Saudi-led camp battling the Al Houthi militants, tweeted that the militants’ “open threat to international navigation in the Red Sea is documentation of their terrorist nature”.
Al Houthi political chief Saleh Al Samad had warned Monday that the militants could “turn to strategic options... including cutting off the Red Sea and international navigation” unless a port and airport blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia and its allies were lifted.
He did not elaborate.
“They pass through our waters in their ships while our people is dying of hunger,” Al Samad said in a statement published by the Al Houthis’ Al Masriah TV.
“But if they are ready to restart negotiations, we are ready as well.”
Al Samad made the comments during a meeting with the deputy UN envoy to Yemen Maeen Sharim.
Along with the Yemeni capital and much of the northern highlands, the militants continue to control a string of ports along Yemen’s Red Sea coastline despite the coalition’s superior firepower.
The coalition has warships positioned in the Red Sea.
In early November, the coalition tightened a pre-existing blockade on Yemeni ports and airports in response to a missile fired by Al Houthis which was intercepted near Riyadh airport.
The coalition as well as the US have condemned the missile strikes and say there is proof that Iran is smuggling in weapons to the militants through the sea ports.
The blockade has been partially lifted under massive international pressure, namely over the closure of Hodeida port - key to humanitarian and commercial deliveries.
More than 9,000 people have been killed since the coalition’s intervention in Yemen, according to the World Health Organisation.
The country is also now facing what the United Nations has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi came to power in early 2012 after massive Arab Spring protests ousted Ali Abdullah Saleh who ruled Yemen for more than 30 years.
He was forced to flee to Aden after escaping Al Houthi-imposed house arrest in 2014.
Since then, Hadi has led an offensive to liberate Al Houthi-occupied territories. With help from the Saudi-led Arab coalition, it has achieved widespread gains in many provinces, but Al Houthis still control the capital Sana’a and most northern provinces including Hodeida, Ibb, Mahweet, Yareem, Amran, Baydha and Hajja.