The Daily Telegraph

Iran-backed Houthis hijack Israel-linked cargo ship in Red Sea


By Abbie Cheeseman

Iran-backed rebels seized an Israeli-linked cargo ship off the coast of Yemen yesterday, to avenge what they said were Israel’s war crimes in Gaza.

The Houthis said they had taken control of the vessel, which had a crew of about two dozen mariners, in the southern Red Sea and sailed it to a Yemeni port.

The armed militants hovered above the Galaxy Leader in a helicopter before rappelling down to the deck, US officials told NBC. The rebels have been warning for weeks that Israel’s continued bombardmen­t of the Gaza Strip would draw them further into the conflict.

Earlier this month, Houthis fired several missiles and drones towards Israel, which later claimed it had intercepte­d them.

Yesterday’s attack raises fears the group has establishe­d a new mode of attack.

It has warned that it would continue to target ships linked to or owned by Israelis until Tel Aviv halts its attacks on Hamas. “All ships belonging to the Israeli enemy or that deal with it will become legitimate targets,” the Houthis said.

The Galaxy Leader is flagged in the Bahamas, but is owned by a British company and operated by a Japanese firm, according to Israel.

The ship’s link to Israel is believed to stem from the nationalit­y of the billionair­e who owns the ship’s parent company, Ray Car Carriers Ltd.

Abraham Ungar, the Israeli billionair­e, is listed in public shipping databases as the company’s owner.

The operating company is Nippon Yusen Kaisha, which chartered the ship to transport cars, according to Nikkei Asia.

Among the 22-member crew were Bulgarians and Filipinos, but no Japanese or Israelis, according to Israeli officials.

The office of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, “strongly condemned” what it said was an Iranian attack.

“The hijacking of the cargo ship by the Houthis in the Red Sea is a very serious event on a global level,” an Israeli Defense Forces spokesman said.

“This is a ship that left Turkey on its way to India with an internatio­nal civilian crew, without Israelis. This is not an Israeli ship.”

Abdulmalek Al Ajri, a prominent Houthi leader, said the ship had been seized because of Israel’s “persistenc­e in killing civilians and carrying out genocide and forced displaceme­nt in Gaza”.

Yahya Sarea, a spokesman for the Houthi rebels, issued a statement after the incident saying that the group would target all ships owned or operated by Israeli companies or flying the Israeli flag.

“The [Houthi] forces confirm that they will continue to carry out military operations against the Israeli enemy until the aggression against the Gaza Strip stops and the heinous crimes that continue until this moment against our Palestinia­n brothers in Gaza and the West Bank stop,” he added.

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