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YEMEN’S Houthi rebels seized an Israeli-linked cargo ship in the Red Sea on Sunday and took its 25 crew members hostage, officials said.
The action raises fears that regional tensions heightened over the Israel-Hamas war were playing out on a new maritime front.
The Iran-backed Houthi rebels said they hijacked the ship over its connection to Israel and would continue to target ships in international waters that were linked to or owned by Israelis until the end of Israel's campaign against Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
“All ships belonging to the Israeli enemy or that deal with it will become legitimate targets,” the Houthis said.
Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdul-Salam said in an online statement that the Israelis only understand “the language of force.
“The detention of the Israeli ship is a practical step that proves the seriousness of the Yemeni armed forces in waging the sea battle, regardless of its costs and costs.”
He said: “This is the beginning.”
The ship’s Japanese operator, NYK Line, said that the vessel had no cargo at the time of the hijacking. Its crewmembers are from the Philippines, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Mexico, NYK said.
Japan condemned the hijacking and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said that the Japanese government was doing its utmost for an early release of the crew through negotiations with Houthi rebels, while also communicating with Israel and co-operating with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Oman and Iran.
The Houthis said that they were treating the crew members “in accordance with their Islamic values,” but did not elaborate on what that meant.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office condemned the seizure as an “Iranian act of terror.”
The Israeli military called the hijacking a “very grave incident of global consequence.”
Ownership details in public shipping databases associated the ship’s owners with Ray Car Carriers, founded by Abraham “Rami” Ungar, who is known as one of the richest men in Israel.
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