Houthi rebels attack 2 US-flagged ships

JERUSALEM — Two American-flagged ships carrying cargo for the U.S. Defense and State departments came under attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels on Wednesday, officials said, with the U.S. Navy intercepting some of the incoming fire.

The attacks on the container ships Maersk Detroit and Maersk Chesapeake further raise the stakes of the group's ongoing attacks on shipping through the vital Bab el-Mandeb Strait. The U.S. and the United Kingdom have launched multiple rounds of airstrikes seeking to stop the attacks.

Meanwhile, Qatar, one of the world's top exporters of liquified natural gas, warned that its deliveries were affected by ongoing Houthi attacks over Israel's war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Danish shipper Maersk, in a statement to The Associated Press, identified two of its vessels affected by the attacks as the U.S.-flagged container ships Maersk Detroit and Maersk Chesapeake. It said the U.S. Navy was accompanying its ships at the time.

"While en route, both ships reported seeing explosions close by and the U.S. Navy accompaniment also intercepted multiple projectiles," Maersk said. "The crew, ship, and cargo are safe and unharmed. The U.S. Navy has turned both ships around and is escorting them back to the Gulf of Aden."

Maersk said both vessels carried cargo belonging to the U.S. Defense and State Departments, as well as other government agencies, meaning they were "afforded the protection of the U.S. Navy for passage through the strait." The ships were operated by Maersk Line, a U.S. subsidiary of Maersk that is "suspending transits in the region until further notice," the company said.

The U.S. military's Central Command in an online statement blamed the Houthis for the attack, saying they fired "three anti-ship ballistic missiles."

"One missile impacted in the sea," the statement said. "The two other missiles were successfully engaged and shot down by the USS Gravely," an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer.

Central Command did not respond to further questions from the AP.

The Houthis, who have been launching attacks on ships since November over Israel's war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, later claimed the attacks in a prerecorded statement by their military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree. He vowed the Houthis would continue their attacks.

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