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War on Gaza: Anger and defiance in Yemen following US-UK air strikes on Houthis

Supporters and opponents of Houthis throw weight behind rebel group's actions in Red Sea
Yemeni supporters of the Huthis shout anti-Israel and anti-US slogans during a march in solidarity with the Palestinian people in the Huthi-controlled capital Sanaa, 11 January 2024 (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)

While Abdulghani, 40, was sleeping at 2:30 am on Friday, he heard an explosion that shook his building and provoked terror among its residents.

“I wasn’t aware what happened, and I heard the sound of an old man from a neighboring floor say 'America is attacking us,'" he told Middle East Eye.

"That was horrible news, so I ran to the neighbours and they were going to the basement to save themselves."

His home was unfortunate enough to be located near the airport in Yemen's capital Sana'a, which is controlled by the Houthi rebels and the target of overnight air strikes by the US and UK.

Abdulghani took his children and joined other families in the basement while the women remained on the floor, far from windows as they were expecting more air strikes.

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“It was similar to what happened in March 2015 when the Saudi-led coalition launched attacks on Yemen but this time we had experience and such attacks were familiar, so we are stronger,” he added.

Abdulghani opened his Facebook page and read news talking about US and UK attacks in different provinces including Hodeida, Taiz, Dhamar, and Sa’ada. He believed that a new war was starting in Yemen.

The UK and US strikes targeted Houthi sites in the early hours of Friday in reaction to repeated Houthi attacks in the Red Sea targeting vessels with links to Israel.

'It seems that the US will not end the crimes in Palestine but [instead] will commit more in Yemen'

- Abdulghani, Sana'a resident

The Houthis have promised to continue disrupting Red Sea traffic until Israel stops its attacks on the residents of Gaza and allows humanitarian aid and basic supplies to enter the besieged enclave.

The Houthis said the 73 overnight attacks had killed five people and injured six, and they warned there would be a “heavy price” to pay.

“AnsarAllah [the Houthis] did what Yemenis want, and we are happy with their attitude supporting our besieged brothers in Gaza, but it seems that the US will not end the crimes in Palestine but [instead] will commit more in Yemen," said Abdulghani.

On Friday, residents of Sana’a took to the streets in protest against the US and UK attacks and sent a message to the world that they supported the Houthis' position on the conflict in Gaza.

Abdulghani said the Houthis weren't targeting random vessels, but only those with links to Israel so “these attacks by the US and UK means they support Israel in killing the Palestinian people".

Support for Palestine

Yemen has been riven by civil war and a Saudi-led bombing campaign since 2015, and a range of different opposing factions control different territories across the country.

However, the attacks by the US and UK have provoked anger across Yemen, with even opponents of the Houthis condemning them.

Shawqi, a resident in Aden who spent years criticising the Houthis, said he was proud of their reaction to the siege on Gaza and called all Yemenis to stand with them.

'It is true that we are against the Houthis in the Yemeni issue but when it comes to their attitude with the Palestine issue, we are with them'

- Shawqi, a resident in Aden

“It is true that we are against the Houthis in the Yemeni issue but when it comes to their attitude with the Palestine issue, we are with them, as Palestine is our main concern and Arabs and Muslims should support it,” he told MEE.

“It is strange to see the US and UK and other countries care about the Red Sea and don’t care about our besieged brothers in Gaza who are killed every day by Israel.”

Shawqi said he believed the US and UK might escalate but he trusted that the Houthis would do their best to support the Palestinians and push back against any incursions.

Despite comments like these, the internationally recognised government of Yemen has publicly condemned the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and accused them of dragging the country into chaos by provoking the UK and US's retaliatory strikes.

“The recent military operation came as a result of the continuous Houthi attacks on the Red Sea and threats on international navigation,” read a statement issued by the government on Friday afternoon.

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“We hold the Houthi militia responsible for taking the country into a battlefield... under a shady claim which has no relation to supporting our brothers in Palestine.”

However, Shawqi said this statement did not reflect the attitude of many Yemenis.

“We studied the Palestine issue in schools, and we are with it since childhood, so it isn’t logical to stand against any side that supports our main concern,” he explained.

Regardless, many fear the recent attacks could mean the opening of a new front in Yemen's grinding conflict.

Ala’a, a resident of Hodeidah, told MEE the battle was no longer for the land, but the sea.

"The US and UK want to control the sea corridor in the Red Sea so Yemenis including the internationally recognized government have to stand against that," he said.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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