(Reuters) – The United States and Britain launched air and sea strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen in response to the movement’s attacks on ships in the Red Sea, a dramatic regional widening of Israel’s war and Hamas in Gaza.
As witnesses in Yemen confirmed explosions across the country to Reuters, President Joe Biden warned in a statement late Thursday that he would not hesitate to take further action if necessary.
Here are some details about the Iran-aligned group.
In the late 1990s, the Houthi family of far northern Yemen launched a religious revival movement for the Zaydi sect of Shiite Islam, which once ruled Yemen but whose northern center had become impoverished and marginalized.
As friction with the government grew, they waged a series of guerrilla wars with the national army and a brief border conflict with Sunni Saudi Arabia.
The war began in late 2014 when Sanaa was taken by the Houthis. Concerned about Shiite Iran’s growing influence along its border, Saudi Arabia intervened at the head of a Western-backed coalition in March 2015 to support the Saudi-backed government.
The Houthis established control over much of the north and other major population centers, while the internationally recognized government based itself in Aden.
Yemen has enjoyed more than a year of relative calm amid a U.N.-led peace campaign. Saudi Arabia has initiated talks with the Houthis in a bid to exit the war.
But Houthi attacks on Israel have increased the risk of conflict for Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis say their attacks on Red Sea shipping routes are a show of support for the Palestinians and Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, in its war against Israel.
Houthi attacks have disrupted international trade, forcing international ships to take the long route around South Africa to avoid being hit. Rising delivery costs are fueling fears it could trigger a new surge in global inflation.
The United States said Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands supported the operation against the Houthis and sought to portray the airstrikes as part of an international effort to restore the free flow of trade on a key route between Europe and Asia which represents around 15% of global maritime traffic.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE HOUTHI ATTACKS?
The Houthis are part of what has been called the “Axis of Resistance” – an anti-Israeli and anti-Western alliance of regional militias (Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthis) backed by Iran.
The Houthis’ slogan is “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse of the Jews and Victory of Islam.”
The Houthis have established ties with Iran, but it is unclear how deep those relationships are. The Saudi-led coalition accuses Iran of arming and training the Houthis, a charge both countries deny. The coalition also claims that Lebanese Hezbollah, backed by Iran, is helping the Houthis, an accusation it rejects.
While Iran supports the Houthis as part of its regional “axis of resistance”, Yemeni experts say they are primarily motivated by a national agenda, although they share a political affinity with Iran and Hezbollah . The Houthis deny being Iran’s puppets and say they are fighting a corrupt system.
(Editing by Michael Georgy and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
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