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Who are the Houthi rebels being hit with US, UK military airstrikes?

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The US and UK on Thursday (Jan 11) launched airstrikes on Houthi rebel targets in Yemen in response to the group’s attacks on ships in the Red Sea for almost two months.

The war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas has drawn in the Houthi rebels, who have controlled north-western Yemen for nearly a decade.

Like Hamas, the Houthis are hostile to Israel and backed by Iran.

The rebels have said they are targeting Israel-linked vessels, although ships with no such direct connection have been affected. The leader of the Houthis has threatened a “big” response against the US and its allies for any military action.

WHO ARE THE HOUTHIS?

They are rebels who seized control of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, in 2014, launching a civil war that continues to this day. Part of a clan that hails from Yemen’s northwestern Saada province, the Houthis are followers of the Zaidi branch of Shiite Islam, which accounts for an estimated 25 per cent of the country’s population.

After North Yemen and South Yemen were unified in 1990, the Houthis waged a series of rebellions before successfully taking the capital in 2014.

The Houthis are anti-Western and anti-Israeli. Analysts say the Houthis get training, technical expertise and increasingly sophisticated weapons – including drones and ballistic and cruise missiles – from Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group.

The US in 2021 revoked its designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group out of concern the label would harm Yemenis’ access to basics such as food and fuel. The Biden administration in mid-November said it was reviewing that reversal.  

WHAT TRIGGERED THE YEMEN CIVIL WAR?

In 2011, an Arab Spring revolt forced the country’s ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to step down after three decades in power. Under a US-backed transition accord, President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi replaced him, and talks set the stage for a constitutional convention and new elections.

The Houthis, however, rejected a federation plan that arose from those discussions.

In 2014, the government lowered fuel subsidies, triggering protests, and the Houthis dislodged Hadi’s government, whose forces retain control of the eastern part of the country.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia intervened in the war on behalf of Hadi’s government. The violence has devastated ordinary Yemenis, who say that between airstrikes, economic collapse and growing starvation, life has become almost unbearable.

Article was originally published from here

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