Iran, Russia decry Houthi strikes; Erdogan: US, UK want to turn Red Sea into bloodbath

China expresses concerns over potential escalation; Jordan: ‘Israeli aggression on Gaza’ to blame; France, Belgium vows to continue working to halt attacks on shipping by Yemen group

Iran and its allies rushed on Friday to condemn the overnight US and British airstrikes on Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that London and Washington were aspiring to turn the Red Sea into a “bloodbath.”

The operation reportedly targeted an airbase, airports and a military camp, and followed weeks of missile and drone attacks by the Yemeni rebels on shipping in the Red Sea, who claimed to act in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip amid Israel’s war against the Hamas terror group.

The United States and its allies said in a joint statement following the airstrikes that their goal “remains to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said in a statement that Tehran “strongly condemned the military attacks of the United States and the United Kingdom this morning on several Yemeni cities.”

He said the strikes were “an arbitrary action, a clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yemen, and a violation of international laws and regulations.”

Kanaani warned that the attacks “will have no result other than fueling insecurity and instability in the region,” as well as “diverting the world’s attention from the crimes” in Gaza.

An Iranian man holds up a Palestinian flag during a demonstration in which worshippers show their support of Palestinians and condemn the US and British strike against Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, after Friday prayer in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The Iranian spokesman also urged the international community to take action “to prevent the spread of war.”

The Houthi rebels — part of the regional Tehran-aligned “axis of resistance” against the US, Israel and their allies — seized Yemen’s capital Sanaa in 2014 and now control large swathes of the country.

The attacks by the Houthis have disrupted traffic through the vital Red Sea maritime route, with some companies suspending passage through the area.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told journalists after Friday prayers in Istanbul that “first of all, [the strikes] are not proportional. All of these constitute disproportionate use of force.”

“It is as if they aspire to turn the Red Sea into a bloodbath,” he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Budapest, Hungary, on December 18, 2023. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP)

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov condemned the attacks on behalf of Russia, which maintains close diplomatic and military ties with the Islamic Republic.

“From the point of view of international law, they are illegitimate,” he said.

“We have repeatedly called on the Houthis to abandon this practice and consider it extremely wrong,” he said.

The Hezbollah and Hamas terror groups, also part of the so-called axis of resistance, have condemned the strikes. Washington has said Iran was “deeply involved” in the Houthis’ maritime attacks, a claim Tehran has denied.

While not outright condemning the attacks, China called for all sides to prevent the conflict from widening.

“China is concerned about the escalation of tensions in the Red Sea,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said.

This photo released by the Houthi Media Center shows a Houthi forces helicopter approaching the cargo ship Galaxy Leader on November 19, 2023. (Houthi Media Center via AP)

“We urge the relevant parties to keep calm and exercise restraint, to prevent the conflict from expanding,” she added.

Beijing stressed that the “Red Sea region is an important passage for international logistics and the energy trade.”

“We hope that the relevant parties can all play a constructive and responsible role in protecting the regional security and stability of the Red Sea, in line with the international community’s shared interests,” Mao said.

China urged “all parties to jointly maintain the security of international waterways and avoid harassing civilian vessels, as this is detrimental to the global economy and trade.”

Meanwhile, Jordan alleged that Israeli “war crimes” against Palestinians were to blame for heightened regional tension and violence in the Red Sea, saying that it threatened to ignite a wider war in the Middle East.

“The Israeli aggression on Gaza and its continued committing of war crimes against the Palestinian people and violating international law with impunity are responsible for the rising tensions witnessed in the region,” Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said in remarks carried by state media.

The stability of the region and its security were closely tied, Safadi said.

“The international community is at a humanitarian, moral, legal and security crossroads. Either it shoulders its responsibilities and ends Israel’s arrogant aggression and protect civilians, or allows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his extremist ministers to drag us to a regional war that threatens world peace,” Safadi said.

He said Israel was pushing the region towards more conflict “by continuing its aggression and its attempt to open new fronts,” and claimed that Israeli military actions against civilians in Gaza met the legal definition of genocide.

Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry expressed “great concern” about the strikes, echoing the view of Yemen’s powerful neighbor Saudi Arabia, which is trying to extricate itself from a nine-year war with the Houthis.

Riyadh voiced its own concern after the UK and US military action, calling for “self-restraint and avoiding escalation.”

Houthi supporters trample on American and Israeli flags, March 26, 2023, in Sanaa, Yemen. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

Meanwhile, France, part of the multi-nation coalition announced last month to protect Red Sea shipping from Houthi attacks, held the Iran-backed group responsible for the escalation in the region.

“Through these armed actions, the Houthis bear the extremely heavy responsibility for the regional escalation,” the French Foreign Ministry said and urged the rebels to “immediately end” these attacks.

“France will continue to assume its responsibilities and to contribute to maritime security in the area in link with its partners,” it added.

Belgium’s Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib said on X said the country is working with its partners in the European Union and the United States to restore security in the Red Sea region and avoid any further widening of the conflict.

“The ongoing attacks by the Houthis are a real danger for the stability of the region and represent an escalation that benefits no one,” she posted on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

File: Houthi supporters chant slogans at a rally marking eight years for a Saudi-led coalition, Friday, March 26, 2023, in Sanaa, Yemen. (AP/Hani Mohammed)

Washington set up an international coalition in December — dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian — to protect maritime traffic in the area, through which 12 percent of world trade flows.

Twelve nations led by the United States later warned the Houthis on January 3 of “consequences” unless they immediately stopped attacks on commercial vessels.

But late Tuesday, the Houthis launched what London called the most significant attack yet by the Yemeni rebels, with US and British forces shooting down 18 drones and three missiles.

The final straw for the Western allies appeared to come early Thursday when the US military said the Houthis fired an anti-ship ballistic missile into a shipping lane in the Gulf of Aden.

It was the 27th attack on international shipping in the Red Sea since November 19, the US military said.

The Biden administration was initially cautious in its response as it is seeking to preserve a fragile peace in Yemen, where a decade of civil war and a Saudi-led coalition’s military campaign have led to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in the Arabian peninsula’s poorest country.

However, the intensifying attacks have caused shipping companies to divert around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, sparking fears of a shock to the global economy.

The United States strengthened its military posture in the region immediately after Hamas’s October 7 onslaught against Israel, in which some 1,200 were killed and approximately 240 taken hostage to Gaza. Washington subsequently warned Iran and its allies against escalating the violence in the region.

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