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Houthi missile hits ship in Gulf of Aden as Yemeni rebels continue attacks over Israel-Hamas war

U.S. Navy response to Houthi Red Sea crisis
Inside look at U.S. Navy response to Houthi Red Sea attacks | 60 Minutes 13:09

Dubai, United Arab Emirates — A missile attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels set a ship ablaze in the Gulf of Aden on Thursday, injuring one person, as Israel intercepted what appeared to be another Houthi attack near the port city of Eilat, authorities said. The attacks come as the Iran-backed rebels escalate their assaults over Israel's war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The attack Thursday in the Gulf of Aden saw the Houthis fire two anti-ship ballistic missiles from southern Yemen into the Gulf, hitting the U.K.-owned cargo ship MV Islander, "causing one minor injury and damage," the U.S. military's Central Command said in a statement.

Gulf of Aden area, connecting Red Sea and Arabian Sea, political map

The British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center said earlier that the strike caused a fire on the ship, without elaborating. The Associated Press said the ship had been heading from Thailand for Egypt, and previously sent out messages saying "SYRIAN CREW ON BOARD" potentially to avoid being targeted by the Houthis.

Israel intercepts missile headed for Red Sea port 

Sirens sounded early Thursday morning over Eilat, followed by videos posted online of what appeared to be an interception in the sky overhead. The Israeli military later said the interception was carried out by its Arrow missile defense system.

Israel did not identify what the fire was, nor where it came from. However, the Arrow system intercepts long-range ballistic missiles with a warhead designed to destroy targets while they are in space.

The system "successfully intercepted a launch which was identified in the area of the Red Sea and was en route to Israel," the Israeli military said. "The target did not cross into Israeli territory and did not pose a threat to civilians."

The Houthis did not immediately claim either attack. They typically acknowledge assaults they conduct hours afterward.

Navy admiral explains how Iran supports Houthi militants 01:22

Eilat, on the Red Sea, is a key port city of Israel. On Oct. 31, Houthis first claimed a missile-and-drone barrage targeting the city. The rebels have claimed other attacks targeting Eilat, which have caused no damage in the city.

Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel's war against Hamas. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast and Europe. Those vessels have included at least one with cargo for Iran, the Houthis' main benefactor.

Houthi attacks continue despite U.S.-led strikes in Yemen

Despite a month of U.S.-led airstrikes, Houthi rebels remain capable of launching significant attacks. This week, they seriously damaged a ship in a crucial strait and shot down an American drone worth tens of millions of dollars.

A U.S. defense official confirmed to CBS News that a Houthi surface to air missile downed a Reaper drone on Saturday. 

On Thursday, CENTCOM said U.S. aircraft and a coalition warship had shot down six Houthi explosive drones over the Red Sea. It said the drones were identified "as likely targeting U.S. and coalition warships and were an imminent threat."   

Houthis claim to shoot down U.S. drone after weekend of self-defense strikes by U.S. 04:50

Over the weekend, CENTCOM said it had also carried out a self-defense strike in Yemen against a Houthi unmanned underwater vessel, the first time the U.S. has reported the Shiite Muslim rebels using an underwater drone since attacks in the Red Sea region started in October.

The Houthis have vowed to continue their attacks until Israel stops its combat operations in the Gaza Strip, which have enraged the wider Arab world and seen the Houthis gain international recognition.

On Wednesday, ships in the Red Sea off the Houthi-held port city of Hodeida in Yemen reported seeing an explosion, though all vessels in the area were said to be safe, the UKTMO said. The UKMTO earlier reported heavy drone activity in the area.

Map of Middle East showing Iran-backed groups including the Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon
CBS News

The U.S. State Department criticized "the reckless and indiscriminate attacks on civilian cargo ships by the Houthis" that have delayed humanitarian aid including food and medicine bound for Ethiopia, Sudan and Yemen. That includes the Sea Champion, a ship carrying corn and other aid to both Aden and Hodeida.

"Contrary to what the Houthis may attempt to claim, their attacks do nothing to help the Palestinians," State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement. "Their actions are not bringing a single morsel of assistance or food to the Palestinian people."

Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, deputy commander of CENTCOM, told "60 Minutes" that despite the ongoing attacks in the vital shipping lanes, it's clear the U.S. military is degrading the Houthis' capability.

U.S., U.K. launch new round of joint strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen
U.S. forces conduct airstrikes on Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen. Feb. 3, 2024.  U.S. Central Command

"Every single day they attempt to attack us, we're eliminating and disrupting them in ways that are meaningful, and I do believe have an impact," he told Norah O'Donnell.

Cooper said he has an endgame in mind, which is "the restoration of the free flow of commerce and safe navigation in the Southern Red Sea," but he didn't say when that could be expected.

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