A blast near a ship off Yemen may mark a new attack by Houthi rebels after a recent lull

JERUSALEM — A ship near the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait saw an explosion in the distance Wednesday, marking what may be a new attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels through the crucial waterway for international trade.

The explosion, reported by the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center, comes after a relative lull from the Houthis after they launched dozens of attacks on shipping in the region over Israel’s ongoing war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The Houthis did not immediately claim responsibility for the blast, but suspicion fell on the group as they’ve repeatedly targeted ships in the same area. It typically takes the Houthis several hours before acknowledging their assaults.

The explosion happened some 130 kilometers (80 miles) southeast of Djibouti in the Gulf of Aden.

“The master of a merchant vessel reports an explosion in the water a distance form the vessel,” the UKMTO said. “Veseel and crew reported safe. Authorities are investigating.”

The private maritime security firm Ambrey separately reported the apparent attack.

The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, seized one vessel and sank another since November, according to the U.S. Maritime Administration.

Houthi attacks have dropped in recent weeks as the rebels have been targeted by a U.S.-led airstrike campaign in Yemen and shipping through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden has declined because of the threat. American officials have speculated that the rebels may be running out of weapons as a result of the U.S.-led campaign against them and firing off drones and missiles steadily in the last months.

The Houthis have said they would continue their attacks until Israel ends its war in Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians there. The war began after Hamas-led militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking some 250 others hostage.

The ships targeted by the Houthis largely have had little or no direct connection to Israel, the U.S. or other nations involved in the war. The rebels have also fired missiles toward Israel, though they have largely fallen short or been intercepted.

The assaults on shipping have raised the profile of the Houthis, who are members of Islam’s minority Shiite Zaydi sect, which ruled Yemen for 1,000 years until 1962. The group seized Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, in late 2014. A Saudi-led coalition has been battling the group in a stalemated conflict since 2015.

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