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Houthi rebels hijack Israel-linked ship in Red Sea, take crew hostage


Israel’s War 2023

Dramatic video on Sunday shows Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels hijacking what they saw to be an Israel-linked cargo ship in the Red Sea – but Israeli officials insist the vessel has no connection with the country.

Armed fighters abseiled from a helicopter onto the deck of the Bahamas-flagged carrier Galaxy Leader and quickly held the 25 crew members at gunpoint, broadcast footage showed Monday by the Houthi television channel Al Masirah.

Their entry was notably similar to the method used by Iranian forces when seizing ships in the Strait of Hormuz, the Times of Israel noted.

One of the rebels could be heard shouting what sounded like the Houthi slogan as he paced the bridge.

This is the first official entry into a foreign war for the Houthis, designated as a terrorist group by the United States until February 2021.

The seizure is believed to have taken place about 90 miles off the Yemeni port city of Hodeida while the Galaxy Leader was en route from Turkey to India, according to British Army Maritime Commercial Operations UK .

Armed Houthi rebels boarded the Galaxy Leader on Sunday.
Houthi movement via Getty Images

“All vessels belonging to or dealing with the Israeli enemy will become legitimate targets (until the bombardment of the Gaza Strip ends),” the Houthis said of the diversion.

Mohammed Abdul-Salam, chief negotiator and spokesperson for the Houthis, also said in an online statement that the Israeli government had only responded to the “language of force.”

“The detention of the Israeli ship is a practical measure that proves the seriousness of the Yemeni armed forces in conducting the naval battle, regardless of the costs,” he said.

“It’s the beginning.”

The 25 crew members were held at gunpoint and taken hostage.
Houthi movement via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office called the hijacking an “Iranian terrorist act,” while the Israeli military called it “a very serious incident with global consequences.”

Israeli officials also insisted that the Galaxy Leader was actually British-owned and Japanese-operated — although records in the public shipping database seen by The Post show that the ship’s owners are linked to Ray Car Carriers, founded by Israeli billionaire Abraham “Rami” Ungar. .

Ungar declined to comment on the incident to The Associated Press, saying he was waiting for more information.

The ship’s operator, Japanese company NYK Line, said the vessel had no cargo on board at the time of the hijacking.

The rebels abseiled onto the bridge from a helicopter.

Its crew members come from the Philippines, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Mexico, NYK said.

On Monday, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the government would do everything in its power to secure the crew’s release through negotiations with the Houthi rebels.

Japan will also communicate with Israel and cooperate with the governments of Iran, Oman and Saudi Arabia during the process, he added.

At the time of the initial announcement, the Houthi rebels said they were treating the Galaxy Leader crew “in accordance with their Islamic values,” but did not explain what that entailed.

A later photo showed the Galaxy Leader being escorted by Houthi ships.

The captain and first mate of the Galaxy Leader are both from Bulgaria, authorities confirmed Monday.

“No one has tried to contact us so far,” the country’s top police officer, Jivko Kotzev, told reporters, adding that authorities were in contact with the victims’ families.

The Houthis have repeatedly threatened Israeli ships off the Yemeni coast in recent years, said Yemen expert Gregory D. Johnsen.

The rebels attacked the ship from the air, video shows.

These attacks benefit the group’s benefactors in Tehran and also increase their visibility in Yemen, he explained.

Red Sea trade routes have become increasingly tense since the war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7.

On at least two occasions in the past month, U.S. warships stationed in the area have intercepted missiles or drones coming from Yemen, believed to target Israel or U.S. ships.

With post wires

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