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Saudis Halt Oil Shipments In Red Sea After Attack By Iran-Backed Huthis

A ship unloads a cargo of fuel at the Red Sea port of Hudaydah.

Saudi Arabia announced it was temporarily halting all oil shipments through a strategic Red Sea shipping lane after an attack on two big oil tankers by Yemen's Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said in a statement on July 25 that the Huthis attacked the two Saudi tankers carrying about two million barrels of oil each in the Red Sea, with one sustaining "minimal damage."

He said any oil spill caused by the missile strikes could have caused "catastrophic environmental damage."

"Saudi Arabia is temporarily halting all oil shipments through the Bab al-Mandeb Strait immediately until the situation becomes clearer and the maritime transit through Bab al-Mandeb is safe," he said.

The Huthis' Al Masirah TV said on Twitter that the missiles were aimed at warships and boats operated by the Saudi-led coalition which has been battling on the Yemen government's side against the Huthis in a three-year civil war.

Saudi Arabia accuses regional rival Iran of supplying the missiles used by the Huthis, something that Tehran and the Shi'ite rebel group both deny.

Yemen lies beside the southern mouth of the Red Sea, one of the most important trade routes in the world for oil tankers containing Middle Eastern exports.

One of the Saudi coalition's main justifications for intervening in Yemen's war in 2015 was to protect the shipping route. It has said it foiled previous attacks there in April and May.

The Bab al-Mandeb strait, where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden, is only 20 kilometers wide, making ships easy targets there.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that 4.8 million barrels per day of crude oil and refined petroleum products were transported through the waterway in 2016 to Europe, the United States, and Asia.

Based on Reuters, dpa, and AFP