By Jonathan Landay and Daphne Psaledakis
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 3 (Reuters) – Members of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday called on Yemen’s Houthis to halt their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, saying they are illegal and threaten regional stability, freedom of navigation and global food supplies.
Addressing the council’s first formal meeting of 2024, members also demanded that the Houthis release the Galaxy Leader, a Japanese-operated cargo ship linked to an Israeli company, and its crew, which the group seized on Nov. 19.
Some members urged the council to take action to halt the Houthi missile and drone attacks. But the body took no formal steps in the open session before going into closed consultations.
The United States believes the situation has reached an “inflection point,” Chris Lu, a U.S. representative to the United Nations, told the council.
“These attacks pose grave implications for maritime security, international shipping and commerce, and they undermine the fragile humanitarian situation in Yemen,” threatening aid deliveries to the war-torn country, Lu said.
The Iran-aligned Houthis, who control much of Yemen, have launched drones and missiles at more than 20 ships since Nov. 19, saying that in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, they were targeting vessels with Israeli links or were sailing to Israel.
But many vessels have had no Israeli connection and were not bound for Israeli ports, and major shipping lines have suspended their operations through the Red Sea.
The United States and other countries last month formed a naval task force, Operation Prosperity Guardian, to protect civilian vessels. U.S. warships have shot down Houthi-fired weapons, and on Sunday sank Houthi speed boats.
Hours before the Security Council met, the United States and 12 other countries warned in a joint statement that the Houthis “will bear the responsibility of the consequences” should the attacks persist.
During the session, the U.S., British and Israeli representatives accused Iran of supporting the Houthi strikes, a charge Tehran has denied.
“The Houthis would struggle to effectively track and strike commercial vessels” without Iran’s backing, said Lu.
Japanese Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki was among those calling for the council to act to halt the attacks, although he did not specify what steps it should take.
“Japan believes the Security Council should take an appropriate action to deter additional threats by the Houthis and maintain international peace and security,” he said.
Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia urged Houthi leaders to ease any actions posing threats to commercial vessels and their crews.
But, he said, the root of the issue was that it was an extension of the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and he criticized Washington for blocking resolutions calling for a ceasefire.
China called the Red Sea an important shipping lane for the international goods and energy trade on Thursday, and said it is of common interest to safeguard its peace and stability.
“China opposes attacks against civilian vessels. I believe all sides need to play a constructive and responsible role in safeguarding the security of shipping lanes in the Red Sea,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said during a regular news briefing.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Daphne Psaledakis; Additional reporting by Andrew Hayley and Liz Lee in Beijing; Editing by Leslie Adler, Sandra Maler and Sonali Paul)