The United States and the United Kingdom on Thursday launched strikes at several sites linked to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the White House said.

“These strikes are in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea – including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history,” a statement by the United States administration said.

A press release by the United Kingdom’s defence ministry said early indications suggest that “the Houthis’ ability to threaten merchant shipping has taken a blow” because of the strikes.

Brigadier General Yahya Saree, a spokesperson for the Houthis, said that 73 strikes hit five regions of Yemen under their control. He added that the strikes left five dead and injured six, but did not elaborate on who was killed, reported the Associated Press.

Since November, the Houthi movement, a Yemen-based military organisation backed by Iran, has attacked at least 27 ships in the Red Sea. The crucial international maritime route between Europe and Asia – through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal – accounts for nearly 15% of the world’s shipping traffic.

The Houthis have stated that their attacks are in response to Israel’s war on Gaza, which has killed more than 23,000 Palestinians since October 7.

Most recently, the US and the British naval forces had intercepted 21 drones and missiles fired by the rebel group on January 9 in the southern Red Sea, reported Reuters. Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree had stated that the missiles were aimed at a US ship “providing support” to Israel.

Following this, the US and the UK had warned the Houthis of “consequences” if the attacks continued.

Earlier on Thursday, Houthi leader Abdel-Malik al-Houthi said in a televised speech that any attack by the US on the group will not go without a response, Al Jazeera reported.

“The response will be greater than the attack that was carried out with 20 drones and a number of missiles,” he said. “We are more determined to target ships linked to Israel, and we will not back down from that.”

In a joint statement on Thursday’s strikes, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand and South Korea, along with the US and the UK, said that the action against the Houthis “demonstrated a shared commitment to freedom of navigation, international commerce, and defending the lives of mariners from illegal and unjustifiable attacks”.

“These precision strikes were intended to disrupt and degrade the capabilities the Houthis use to threaten global trade and the lives of international mariners in one of the world’s most critical waterways,” read the statement.

It added that the shared aim of the nations was to deescalate tensions and “restore stability in the Red Sea”.

“But let our message be clear: we will not hesitate to defend lives and protect the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways in the face of continued threats,” it added.

On the other hand, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said that “arbitrary attacks” will only fuel insecurity and instability in the region.

On December 23, a Liberian-flagged chemical tanker MV Chem Pluto suffered a drone strike. The tanker, with a crew of 21 Indians and a Vietnamese, was struck off India’s western coast when it was on its way to the New Mangalore port.

The same day, a Gabon-flagged oil tanker with 25 Indian crew was also attacked by a drone in the southern Red Sea.

Following this, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh vowed to take strict action against those responsible for the attacks.

“The Indian government has taken the drone attack on MV Chem Pluto [in the Arabian Sea] and attack on MV Saibaba in the Red Sea seriously,” Singh said. “We will find those who executed the recent attacks on [the] merchant navy ships even from the depths of the seas and take strict action against them.”