Japan Seeks Direct Talks With Yemen's Houthi Rebels Over Hijacked Ship

Japan says it is “directly approaching” Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels after they seized a ship operated by a Japanese firm with around 25 crew on board.

The Japanese-operated cargo ship Galaxy Leader

The Japanese government has taken a proactive stance in addressing the recent hijacking of a cargo ship in the Red Sea by Houthi rebels. Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa announced that Japan is "directly approaching" the Houthi rebels to facilitate the early release of the vessel and its approximately 25 crew members, hailing from various nationalities.

Communicating with Israel, and in addition to directly approaching the Houthis, Minister Kamikawa stated that Japan is urging Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iran and other countries concerned to strongly urge the Houthis for the early release of the vessel and crew members. "Our government will continue to take necessary measures in cooperation with the countries concerned while taking into account the situation," Minister Kamikawa assured.

The hijacked vessel, named the Galaxy Leader and operated by Japanese firm Nippon Yusen, also known as NYK Line, became the centre of conflicting claims. The Houthi rebels asserted that it was an Israeli ship, while Israel identified it as a British-owned and Japanese-operated cargo vessel. Israel clarified that there were no Israeli nationals among the crew members, who comprised Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Filipinos, and Mexicans.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu squarely blamed Iran for the incident, alleging it was an "Iranian attack on an international ship." Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Nasser Kanani, said the Israeli accusations were “invalid” and “projection meant to escape from the situation they are facing”.

“We have repeatedly announced that the resistance groups in the region represent their countries and make decisions and act based on the interests of their countries,” he said.

Who Are the Houthis?

The Houthi rebels, based in Sanaa, Yemen, have recently become entangled in the broader conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. They fired drones and missiles at Israel from a considerable distance. 

The Houthis have been engaged in a prolonged civil war with Yemen's official government, supported by Saudi Arabia, since 2014.

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