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Israel-Palestine war: Japan ‘strongly condemns’ Houthi seizure of vessel in the Red Sea

Yemeni rebels claimed Japan-flagged vessel was Israeli and hailed its seizure as start of 'battle of the sea'
Houthi military helicopter flies over the Galaxy Leader cargo ship in the Red Sea, 20 November 2023 (Houthi military media handout/Reuters)

Japan has denounced the seizure of a British-owned, Japanese-operated commercial vessel in the Red Sea by Yemen's Houthi rebels.

The Iran-backed group claimed the boat was flagged as Israeli and that the seizure marked the beginning of a "battle of the sea".

On Monday, unverified footage purporting to show Sunday’s seizure was released on social media showing masked men wearing headbands emblazoned with the Palestinian flag boarding the vessel via a helicopter, the ship was carrying 25 crew members on its way to India. 

The Galaxy-leader vessel, operated by the Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen is now being held at the port of Hodeidah in Yemen.

“We strongly condemn such acts,” the chief cabinet secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, told a news conference on Monday, adding that ministries and agencies were working with countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman and Iran to secure the release of the vessel and its crew.

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He confirmed that no Japanese nationals were among the crew.

The rebels claimed that the vessel was an Israeli cargo ship while the group’s spokesperson later posted on X that the Houthis would “continue to carry out military operations against the Israeli enemy until the aggression against Gaza stops and the ugly crimes … against our Palestinian brothers in Gaza and the West Bank stop."

Israel described the seizure as an “Iranian act of terrorism”, which would threaten maritime security and have “global consequences”.

At a press conference on Monday, Iran's foreign ministry spokesperson, Nasser Kanaani denied any Iranian involvement.

"We have said multiple times that resistance groups in the region act independently and spontaneously based on their interests and that of their people," Kanaani said, adding that Israeli claims were aimed at diverting attention away from Israel's "irreparable defeat" in the ongoing war. 

The White House has denounced the attack as a "flagrant violation of international law", and demanded the immediate release of the ship and its crew.

Yahya Sarea, a spokesperson for the Houthis, previously warned that the group would target all ships operated or owned by Israeli companies or carrying the Israeli flag, according to the group's Telegram channel on Sunday.

Sarea called on all countries to withdraw their citizens working on any such ships.

The group have hailed Sunday's seizure as being only “the start” of a “battle at sea”.

The Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip, launched after a 7 October Hamas-led attack on southern Israel, have killed over 13,000 Palestinians.

In Yemen, the Houthi movement has launched missile and drone attacks on Israel.

On 11 November, Iran's former foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was being lobbied by ultra-conservatives for greater intervention in the Israel-Palestine war.

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