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Suspected Houthi missile attack leaves ship on fire in Gulf of Aden

Houthi supporters at a demonstration against the US and the UK in Yemen on January 22 (Anadolu via Getty Images)
Houthi supporters at a demonstration against the US and the UK in Yemen on January 22 (Anadolu via Getty Images)

A suspected missile attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels has set a ship ablaze in the Gulf of Aden on Thursday morning.

The alleged attack came as Israel intercepted what appeared to be a separate Houthi attack near the port city of Eilat, authorities said.

Rebels have escalated their assaults, which they claim to be in response to Israel's war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.Two missiles were fired in the Gulf of Aden on Thursday, the British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations centre said.

It said the unnamed ship was ablaze, without elaborating.

Ship-tracking data analysed by news agency the Associated Press identified the stricken vessel as a cargo ship named Islander, registered in Micronesian archipelago Palau.

The ship had been coming from Thailand bound for Egypt. It had previously sent out messages saying "Syrian crew on board", to potentially avoid being targeted by the Iran-backed Houthis.

Images appeared to show a missile intervention over Eilat on Thursday morning (ES Composite)
Images appeared to show a missile intervention over Eilat on Thursday morning (ES Composite)

"The missile attack led to a fire onboard and coalition military assets were responding to the incident," private security firm Ambrey said.

Images from the scene were not immediately available. The ship's Liberian-listed owners could not be immediately reached for comment.

Meanwhile, sirens sounded early on Thursday over Eilat, a key port city of Israel on the Red Sea. It was 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 defence 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.

On October 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.

Smoke rises from Marlin Luanda, merchant vessel, after the vessel was struck by a Houthi anti-ship missile near the Gulf of Aden in January (via REUTERS)
Smoke rises from Marlin Luanda, merchant vessel, after the vessel was struck by a Houthi anti-ship missile near the Gulf of Aden in January (via REUTERS)

Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel's war against Hamas.

Last month, oil tanker the Marlin Luanda was ablaze after it was targeted by a Houthi missile near the Gulf of Aden.

On Sunday, the crew of a UK-registered cargo ship Rubymar were evacuated after it was damaged in a missile attack in the Red Sea.

The Houthis have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, threatening 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.