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AL-MUKALLA: The US Central Command said on Saturday that it had destroyed numerous Houthi missiles and explosive-laden remotely operated boats in Yemen as the Yemeni militia rejected America’s ultimatum to cease attacks before its decision to redesignate the Houthis as “global terrorists” takes effect on Feb. 16.

CENTCOM said on X that its forces carried out “self-defense strikes” on Friday, targeting two explosive-laden Houthi drone boats, four anti-ship cruise missiles, and one land-attack cruise missile that were ready to launch against US Navy and commercial ships in the Red Sea.

“These actions will protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure for the US Navy and merchant vessels,” it added.

Houthi official media said on Friday that the US and the UK conducted two strikes on Baqoum district in the northern province of Saada, the militia’s stronghold, but made no mention of any assaults on their naval forces. 

Since Jan. 12, the US and the UK have conducted dozens of strikes on Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, targeting radar stations, missile and drone launchers, military sites, ammunition depots, and other locations — attacks that the two countries say are intended to degrade Houthi military power and force the group to stop their attacks in the Red Sea.

The new round of bombings came as the Houthis ignored Washington’s request to end their Red Sea operations by Feb. 16, before the terror-designation decision is due to come into effect.

Stephen Fagin, US ambassador to Yemen, said earlier that the US would remove the Houthis’ terrorist label if the Yemeni militia stopped attacking ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden by Friday.

“The designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group will take effect Feb. 16, but it can be reviewed if the Houthi militia ceases their activities in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden,” Fagin said on X.

The Houthis warned they would continue to attack ships in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab, and the Gulf of Aden, and threatened to expand those attacks if Israel did not lift its blockade on Gaza.

Abdulsalam Jahaf, a member of the Houthi Shoura Council, said on X that if Israel does not end its war in Gaza, or if the US and UK continue to bombard parts of Yemen under their control, they will launch more attacks on ships, adding that the Houthis are not concerned about the US terrorism designation.

“The terrorism card does not (frighten) us, but rather assures us that we are on the right track, and it is a badge of pride,” Jahaf said. 

The Houthis have seized commercial ships and fired dozens of drones and missiles against commercial and naval ships in seas around Yemen, enforcing their ban on any Israeli-linked or Israeli-affiliated ships passing through the Red Sea. The Houthis say that their strikes are intended to force Israel to end its embargo on Gaza.

Asked about the US ambassador’s ultimatum to the Houthis, Elisabeth Kendall, a Middle East expert and mistress of Girton College at Cambridge University, told Arab News that the US knows the Houthis will not stop their attacks before the Feb. 16 deadline, but has set the ultimatum in order to indicate it has exhausted its options before resuming or expanding its military operations.

“It is not in the nature of the Houthi leadership to respond positively to ultimatums. Presumably, the US leadership knows this and is simply issuing an ultimatum so that it can claim that all routes had been tried before continuing or escalating its military operations,” she said.

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