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Yemen’s Houthis tell China, Russia their ships in Red Sea won’t be targeted

The Yemen-based Houthis have told China and Russia their ships can sail through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden without being attacked, according to several people with knowledge of the militant group’s discussions.

China and Russia reached an understanding following talks between their diplomats in Oman and Mohammed Abdel Salam, one of the Houthis’ top political figures, said the people, who asked not to be named discussing private matters.

In exchange, the two countries may provide political support to the Houthis in bodies such as the United Nations Security Council, according to the people. It’s not entirely clear how that support would be manifested, but it could include blocking more resolutions against the group.

 

Spokespeople for the governments of China and Russia, as well as the Houthis, including Abdel Salam, didn’t reply to Bloomberg’s requests for comment.

While the Houthis have already signaled Moscow and Beijing’s assets would not be targeted, the talks underscore the increased nervousness among world powers about the group’s missile and drone attacks in and around the southern Red Sea since mid-November.

The Houthis say they’re targeting ships linked to Israel, the US and UK. Yet they appear to have misidentified some vessels and Russia and China may have wanted stronger assurances from the group.

This month, the Houthis hit the True Confidence, a bulk-commodities carrier, causing the first deaths since they started their maritime attacks. The Houthis said the vessel was American. It used to be owned by Los Angeles-based Oaktree Capital, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, but a new, non-US company recently took it on.

Separately, missiles exploded near a ship hauling Russian oil near Yemen in late January. It happened days after a spokesman for the Houthis told a Russian newspaper that Russian and Chinese merchant ships needn’t fear attacks.

Ostensibly, the assaults are to put pressure on Israel to stop its war in Gaza against Hamas, though many analysts doubt the Houthis would end their campaign in the event of a ceasefire or permanent peace deal.

The waterways – including the Bab al-Mandeb strait connecting the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden – are crucial for the global economy and normally around 30 percent of container cargo flows through them. They also handle a large proportion of oil and liquefied natural gas flows.

Since the attacks started, most Western shipping firms have avoided the strait and are instead going around southern Africa. That’s adding days and significant freight costs onto journeys between Asia and Europe.

Companies from China and Russia haven’t announced they’re avoiding the area and ship-tracking data shows many of them still send their ships through it.

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