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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 15 JANUARY 2024

US, UK fighter jets strike again in Yemen; global risk is ‘flashing red’, says Cameron

US, UK fighter jets strike again in Yemen; global risk is ‘flashing red’, says Cameron
A man carrying a mock jet craft after he participated in a protest staged against violating Yemen’s sovereignty through aerial attacks launched by he US and UK. (Photo: Mohammed Hamoud / Getty Images)

Houthi rebels in Yemen said US and UK fighter jets hit Jadaa mountain in the Al-Lahayah district in the Red Sea province of Hodeida on Sunday evening.

The level of global risk was ‘flashing red’ and the UK was ready to carry out further strikes on Houthi targets if the group continued to attack vessels in the Red Sea, Foreign Secretary David Cameron said in media appearances.  

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin remained hospitalised in good condition with no date set for his release, a Pentagon spokesperson said on Saturday. 

US, UK fighter jets strike again in Yemen, says Al-Masirah TV

Houthi rebels in Yemen said US and UK fighter jets hit Jadaa mountain in the Al-Lahayah district in the Red Sea province of Hodeida in a new strike on Sunday evening.

Al-Masirah TV, operated by the Iran-backed military group, reported that fighter jets and surveillance drones were still hovering over the Hodeida region. 

There was no immediate confirmation from the US or UK military. 

Cameron says ‘lights flashing red’ on global risk dashboard

The level of global risk was “flashing red” and the UK was ready to carry out further strikes on Houthi targets if the group continued to attack vessels in the Red Sea, Foreign Secretary David Cameron said in media appearances.

“It’s hard to think of a time when there has been so much danger and insecurity and instability in the world,” Cameron said in an interview with Sky News. “The lights are absolutely flashing red on the global dashboard.”

The strikes by US and allied forces on Thursday, followed by more US strikes on Friday, had gone “some way” to degrading the Yemen-based group’s capabilities, Cameron wrote in the Telegraph newspaper. The UK remained ready to defend freedom of navigation if the group persisted in its attacks on shipping, he added.

“We have sent the clearest possible message to the Houthis that their behaviour is unacceptable and we have demonstrated we are prepared to follow words and warnings with action,” Cameron said in an interview on Sunday morning on Sky News.

Houthi rebels have been attacking merchant ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden for the past few weeks, in response to Israel’s war in Gaza. The attacks have disrupted global trade as many vessels have either paused transit through the Red Sea or decided to sail thousands of kilometres around Africa to avoid the dangerous waters. The strikes by the US and UK risk embroiling the countries in yet another fight with a proxy of Iran.

The UK has warned Iran about arming and supporting the Houthis and Cameron said there is “no doubt that the malign actor in the region that is behind these proxy groups is Iran.”

There have been 26 attacks on shipping since 19 November, and the situation was getting worse, Cameron said. The UK remained prepared “to back our words with actions”, he said in an interview on Sunday with the BBC.

Read more: Biden’s ‘clear message’: How US, UK came to strike Houthis

The government was right to participate in the attack without getting support from Parliament and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak would deliver a statement on the government’s action in the House of Commons on Monday, Cameron said. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer was briefed on the action in advance and supported the government, he said. Starmer confirmed that support in a BBC interview, but said Labour’s backing was not unconditional.

“We will look at the case the government puts forward,” he said on Sunday. 

UK police arrest six over plot to disrupt London Stock Exchange

UK police said they arrested six people over a plot to target the London Stock Exchange (LSE).

Activists from the Palestine Action group were allegedly planning to cause damage to the LSE and to prevent the building from opening for trading on Monday morning, the Met said in a statement. They arrested a 31-year-old man in Liverpool early on Sunday, with another five people believed to be part of the plot nabbed later that day. 

The Met began investigations after receiving information from the Daily Express newspaper on Friday, according to the statement. Palestine Action didn’t immediately respond to a request seeking comment.   

The UK has seen widespread protests against the war in Gaza since it began in October. Another rally was held this weekend, with thousands taking to the streets of London calling for an immediate ceasefire, the Press Association reported.

Desperate Gazans use crowdsourcing to bribe their way into Egypt

As they endure missiles, displacement, disease and starvation, some Gazans are raising money online to pay bribes to Egyptian officials at the Rafah border to get family members out to safety. 

With the crossing essentially shut, few Palestinians have been able to leave Gaza since 7 October, when Hamas forces killed 1,200 people and kidnapped another 240 in southern Israel. That set off a war with Israel in which more than 23,000 Gazans have been killed, according to Hamas officials. 

But a relative few have found that with enough money — as much as $10,000 per person — they can get out. And they’re seeking help online.

One of them is Yasmin, a Gaza City resident who said she’s raised €28,000 on GoFundMe and evacuated her mother, three sisters and a niece to Egypt.

She said she paid $6,500 for each person “through a coordinator.”

“My sister is ill and she is now in the hospital,” Yasmin said by phone, asking that her family name not be published to avoid possible reprisals. “Without the ‘coordination,’ we don’t know what would have happened to her. This was the only way to get out of Gaza.”

Egypt says no bribery is taking place. Diaa Rashwan, head of the Egypt State Information Service, denied the official collection of any additional fees from those coming from Gaza. He also rejected allegations that any unofficial entity is charging a fee to help people cross into Egyptian territories.

But Aya, a Palestinian who returned to visit her family in Gaza after a year abroad in the United Arab Emirates, describes a different reality.

She arrived pregnant last summer and delivered her first baby in Gaza. She decided to stay with her family for a while before reuniting with her husband in the UAE; a month later, the war broke out.

After Israel’s retaliatory air strikes started, Aya, her parents, siblings and newborn daughter fled repeatedly before reaching the southern city of Khan Younis, where she was later wounded by shrapnel and rushed to a hospital.

“All I wanted back then was to get out of Gaza and return to my husband,” she said by phone. “A mediator reached out to my husband after seeing his Facebook posts asking how to get me out.”

The mediator asked for $13,000 to get Aya and her baby on the list. After bargaining, the sum was reduced to $10,000. 

“My husband got a loan to pay for the costs,” she said.

Aya was able to cross the border when her name appeared on the lists provided by Egypt to the Hamas unit running the Palestinian side of Rafah. 

Austin still hospitalised with no return date set, says Pentagon 

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin remained hospitalised in good condition with no date set for his release, a Pentagon spokesperson said on Saturday.

Austin’s hospitalisation on 1 January for complications from prostate surgery and delays in notification, including to the White House, have prompted an investigation by the Department of Defense’s internal watchdog and criticism from lawmakers. President Joe Biden called the delay a lapse of judgment but said he still had faith in Austin.

Austin (70) is in contact with senior staff and “continues to monitor DOD’s day-to-day operations worldwide”, Pentagon spokesperson Pat Ryder said.

Austin’s hospitalisation has drawn particular scrutiny at a time of increased global conflict. That includes US engagement in the Middle East after the 7 October attack on Israel by Hamas and Israel’s military response in the Gaza Strip, which Hamas rules. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War

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