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Houthis target Saudi ship off Yemen coast

Saudi media says ship was an oil tanker, while Houthis claim to have hit a 'warship' in response to air attack by the Saudi coalition in Hodeidah
The aftermath of an air strike on Hodeida province on Monday that killed 16 people (AFP)

Houthi forces in Yemen launched an attack on a Saudi ship on Tuesday, in what the movement said was retaliation for a Saudi coalition air attack that killed 16 people including seven children.

The Houthis said their naval forces targeted a "Saudi-led coalition warship" off the coast of Hodeidah in response to an air strike on Monday in the province.

Saudi Arabian news outlet Al-Arabiya however reported the ship to be an oil tanker, citing a statement from the Saudi-led coalition.

The coalition said the oil tanker was in international waters when it came under "Houthi-Iranian attack" at about 1.30pm local time.

A coalition warship conducted a "swift intervention" foiling the attack, it said, without identifying the type of weapon used in the assault.

Turki al-Malki, a colonel and spokesman for the Saudi coalition, said that the tanker was not affected by the hit, and it carried on northwards "escorted by a coalition warship".

He said the attack was a threat to the "freedom of maritime navigation", and added that the attacked proved the continued use of Hodeidah's port by "terrorists".

A text message from the Houthi military said naval forces had "targeted a battleship belonging to the coalition in response to the bombardment of displaced people in Hodeidah". It gave no further details.

The Saudi coalition attack on Hodeidah killed 16 people including seven children, in what the UN described as "one of the deadliest attacks" on children in the country for years. 

Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in a civil war in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis to restore the government of the internationally recognised president, Abd Rabbuh Hadi.

The coalition has previously admitted to "erroneous" strikes that caused civilian casualties. 

The Houthis have launched a series of missile strikes on Saudi Arabia, including the capital Riyadh, in recent days.

The war has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than two million and driven the country - already the poorest on the Arabian Peninsula - to the verge of famine.

Earlier on Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the warring sides in Yemen to reach a political settlement to end a conflict now in its fourth year that has left 22 million people in urgent need of aid.