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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - UN Security Council to vote on a resolution demanding Houthi rebels stop attacks on Red Sea shipping
UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council scheduled a vote Wednesday on a resolution that would condemn and demand an immediate halt to attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on merchant and commercial vessels in the Red Sea area.
The US draft resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, says at least two dozen Houthi attacks are impeding global commerce “and undermine navigational rights and freedoms as well as regional peace and security.”
US Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood told reporters Wednesday ahead of the vote that the purpose of the resolution is to send a message that attacking commercial shipping is unacceptable and must stop. “Freedom of navigation, freedom of commercial activity on the seas is critically important to commerce and to national security of a number of states,” he said.
The Iranian-backed Houthis, who have been engaged in a civil war with Yemen’s internationally recognized government since 2014, have said they launched the attacks with the aim of ending Israel’s devastating air-and-ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.
It was triggered by the Palestinian militant group Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise attack in southern Israel which killed about 1,200 people and led to some 250 others being taken hostage. Israel’s three-month assault in Gaza has killed more than 23,000 people, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Hams-run Gaza Health Ministry which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.
The resolution would demand the immediate release of the first ship the Houthis attacked, the Galaxy Leader, a Japanese-operated cargo ship with links to an Israeli company that it seized on Nov. 19 along with its crew.
However, the links to the ships targeted in the rebel assaults have grown more tenuous as the attacks continue. In the latest incident, a barrage of drones and missiles fired by the Houthis late Tuesday targeted shipping in the Red Sea, though the US said no damage was reported.
The Red Sea links the Mideast and Asia to Europe via the Suez Canal, and its narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Nearly 10 percent of all oil trade and an estimated $1 trillion in goods pass through the strait annually. But the Houthi attacks have forced many shipping companies to bypass this route and use the much longer and more expensive route around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa.
A US-led coalition of nations has been patrolling the Red Sea to try to prevent the attacks.
Last week the US and 12 other countries issued a statement calling for the immediate end of Houthi attacks and warning that further attacks would require collective action. “The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways,” they said.
While the Houthis have not stopped targeting ships, a tentative cease-fire between the Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of Yemen’s exiled government has held for months despite that country’s long war. That’s raised concerns that any wider conflict in the sea — or a potential reprisal strike from Western forces — could reignite those tensions in the Arab world’s poorest nation.
At an open Security Council meeting last week, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called on Houthi leaders to implement the statement by the 13 countries and halt attacks.
But he stressed that the Houthi’s actions must be seen as a response to “Israel’s brutal operation in Gaza,” and the best scenario would be for the Security Council to redouble efforts to end the Yemen civil war and the Israel-Hamas conflict.
The “catastrophic” scenario, Nebenzia said, would be to escalate the use of force in the Red Sea which risks derailing a settlement of the Yemen conflict. It would also create conditions “for igniting a new major conflict around at least the Arabian Peninsula” and a wider regional conflict, he said.
Given these concerns, it’s uncertain whether Russia will abstain or veto the draft resolution.
Wood, the US envoy, referring to Russia without naming it, said Wednesday: “We’re hoping that it will pass, I don’t know how ... one Security Council member is going to vote.”
The final draft makes some changes that appear aimed at getting broader support.
The initial draft would have recognized “the right of member states, in accordance with international law, to take appropriate measures to defend their merchant and naval vessels.”
The final draft is weaker, eliminating any UN recognition of a country’s right to defend its ships. Instead, it would affirm that the navigational rights and freedoms of merchant and commercial vessels must be respected, and take note “of the right of member states, in accordance with international law, to defend their vessels from attacks, including those that undermine navigational rights and freedoms.”
Without naming Iran, the Houthis’ main arms supplier, the draft to be voted on would condemn all arms dealings with the rebels, which violate Security Council sanctions. It would also call for “additional practical cooperation to prevent the Houthis from acquiring the materiel necessary to carry out further attacks.”
Both drafts recognize the need to avoid escalating the situation, but the resolution to be voted on is broader. It “urges caution and restraint to avoid further escalation of the situation in the Red Sea and the broader region.” And it “encourages enhanced diplomatic efforts by all parties to that end, including continued support for dialogue and Yemen’s peace process under the UN auspices.”
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