Houthi rebels suspected in attack that damaged a Belize-flagged ship in Bab el-Mandeb Strait

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Yemen’s Houthi rebels are suspected in an attack that damaged a Belize-flagged ship traveling through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait connecting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, authorities said early Monday.

The attack on the ship came as the U.S. military acknowledged conducting new airstrikes targeting the rebels, including one that targeted the first Houthi underwater drone seen since the rebels’ began launching their attacks on shipping in November.

The ship targeted in the Houthi attack Sunday reported sustaining damage after “an explosion in close proximity to the vessel,” the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center reported. It said that the crew aboard the ship were safe.

The private security firm Ambrey reported the British-registered, Lebanese-operated cargo ship had been on its way to Bulgaria after leaving Khorfakkan in the United Arab Emirates.

Ship-tracking data from MarineTraffic.com analyzed by The Associated Press identified the vessel targeted as the Rubymar. Its Beirut-based manager could not be immediately reached for comment.

Ambrey described the ship as being partially laden with cargo, but it wasn’t immediately clear what it had been carrying. The ship had turned off its Automatic Identification System tracker while in the Persian Gulf early this month.

The Houthis did not immediately claim the attack, though a military spokesman for the rebels, Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, said a statement on their activities likely would be released sometime Monday morning.

Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war targeting Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast and Europe. Those vessels have included at least one with cargo for Iran, its main benefactor.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military’s Central Command reported it carried out five airstrikes targeting Houthi military equipment. Those strikes targeted mobile anti-ship cruise missiles, an explosive-carrying drone boat and an “unmanned underwater vessel,” Central Command said.

“This is the first observed Houthi employment of a UUV since attacks began in Oct. 23,” Central Command said.

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