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SANAA, Yemen — Yemen’s Houthi militants said Tuesday they will not stop their “military operations” in the Red Sea, hours after the United States announced the formation of a multinational naval coalition to protect commercial shipping there.

The Yemeni group that’s aligned with Iran has been targeting commercial ships in protest over the Israel-Gaza war, disrupting one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

“Our war is a moral war, and therefore, no matter how many alliances America mobilizes, our military operations will not stop,” Mohammed Albukhaiti, a member of the organization’s ruling council, told The Washington Post.

Analysis: Houthi attacks on shipping threaten global consequences

“Participating in a coalition to protect the perpetrators of genocidal crimes is a disgrace in the history of the participating countries,” he added. “If America had moved in the right direction, it would have obliged Israel to stop its crimes without the need to expand the scope of the conflict.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the launch of “Operation Prosperity Guardian” on Monday as he travels through Israel, Bahrain and Qatar this week.

“Countries that seek to uphold the foundational principle of freedom of navigation must come together to tackle the challenge posed by this non-state actor,” Austin said in a statement. “This is an international challenge that demands collective action.”

He labeled the Houthi attacks “reckless” and said they involved “ballistic missiles” and drones launched at merchant vessels transiting international waters.

On Monday, oil giant BP became the latest company to announce it would be pausing its shipments through the Red Sea. Several shipping companies, including MSC, Maersk, Euronav and the Evergreen Group, have said they are also avoiding the Suez Canal as militants target cargo vessels.

Roughly 10 percent of all maritime oil trade goes through the Red Sea — which connects to the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal. Without access to the Red Sea route, many ships will have to take the far longer and costlier journey around Africa to reach their destinations.

Who are the Houthis and why are they attacking ships in the Red Sea?

The U.S.-led coalition will include the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain, Austin added.

The Houthis’ maritime attacks have underscored broader outrage across the Middle East over Israel’s assault on Gaza. The campaign has killed over 19,400 people, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, flattening neighborhoods and triggering an unprecedented humanitarian disaster.

In response to the conflict, the Houthis have said they would target any ship that travels to Israel and does not stop in Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid. Ships with no ties to Israel or that do not travel there will be permitted to pass, the group has said.

On Oct. 19, the Houthis launched the first of their recent attacks: cruise missiles aimed at Israel that were shot down by the USS Carney, a Navy destroyer in the Red Sea. On Nov. 19, the Houthis hijacked a commercial vessel, the Galaxy Leader, in the Red Sea and took 25 crew members hostage. They also claimed responsibility for naval drone attacks on two commercial ships on Monday. Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea identified the vessels as the MSC Clara and Norwegian-owned Swan Atlantic.

The Houthis, a militant group from northern Yemen, seized the capital in 2014, deposing the U.S.-allied government in Sanaa. Saudi Arabia entered the fray, and the ensuing war killed tens of thousands and caused one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises. The civil war has pitted the Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels, who maintain a stronghold in Yemen’s north, against the Saudi-backed government forces.

BP suspends Red Sea shipping amid attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militants

Secretary of State Antony Blinken “condemned continued attacks by the Houthis on commercial vessels operating in international waters in the southern Red Sea” on Monday in a call with his Saudi counterpart, according to the State Department. Riyadh and Washington “urged cooperation among all partners to uphold maritime security,” it added.

Mohammed Abdulsalam, a spokesman for the Houthis, said in a statement Tuesday that most commercial ships would not be targeted.

“We reiterate the safety of maritime routes in the Red Sea and Arabian Sea, ensuring no threat to ships from any nation, except those linked to the enemy entity or destined for its ports,” he stated, referring to Israel.

Dadouch reported from Beirut and Suliman from London. Kareem Fahim in Beirut and Dan Lamothe, Evan Halper, Cate Brown and Missy Ryan in Washington contributed to this report.

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