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What Houthis are saying about retaliation for Thursday's U.S. attacks

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Yemen's Houthi rebels say they will widen attacks on American and British interests - this after the U.S. and U.K. struck Yemen in retaliation for Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea. This is all raising fears of a wider regional war since the Houthis say their attacks are in support of Palestinians in Gaza. NPR's Jane Arraf is following all of this from Beirut. Hi, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What are the Houthis saying about retaliating for last night's attacks?

ARRAF: Well, it was a big attack - what the U.S. says were 73 strikes on what it described as Houthi military targets in Yemen. So the Houthis, who control North Yemen, said after the attack that, quote, "all American-British interests have become legitimate targets." We reached a Houthi official, the deputy spokesman for Ansar Allah, in Sanaa, Yemen. Nasreddin Amer said this marked a new phase in the conflict.

NASREDDIN AMER: (Through interpreter) It certainly means that there will be an escalation and expansion. The American and British bear the responsibility for the escalation they brought upon us. And there will be a response to this escalation practiced by the United States of America and Britain in their aggression against us.

ARRAF: This was the first U.S. strike since the Houthis began those attacks in November, and they've recently escalated them with, most recent, a barrage of drones and missiles.

SHAPIRO: And, Jane, you not only spoke with the Houthis. You spoke with Hamas. The Houthis say they have been doing this to support Hamas. What does Hamas say?

ARRAF: Well, we sat down with a senior Hamas official in Lebanon to ask him. Osama Hamdan blamed the U.S. for the heightened tension by ignoring international law in Gaza. That's what he says the U.S. is doing. Health officials there say Israeli airstrikes have killed 23,000 people, most of them women and children. Israel says it's trying to wipe out Hamas and that 1,200 Israelis were killed when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. This is Hamdan on the effect of the U.S. strike.

OSAMA HAMDAN: It will create a very important understanding in the region that there is no political solutions. You have to protect yourself. Otherwise, you will be destroyed for the benefit of the Israelis.

ARRAF: He said the Houthi attacks had previously targeted only Israeli-linked ships. And he said while Hamas and other factions were in contact with the Houthis, the group was acting on its own.

HAMDAN: They are talking to everyone about their aims and goals and what they are capable to do. But in fact, they are doing that by themselves, knowing the consequences. And they are ready for that.

ARRAF: And Hamdan insisted that while the Houthis were allies of Iran, they did not take orders from them.

SHAPIRO: Well, I mentioned that this is all raising fears of a wider regional war. And you are in Lebanon, which is another hot spot. Tell us about the response more broadly across the region.

ARRAF: Well, here, the Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah has been trading attacks with Israel across the Israeli-Lebanese border. And that's prompted fears of the Gaza war escalating here as well. The country's prime minister (ph), Abdallah Bou Habib, told us the increased attacks were a natural result of the continuing war in Gaza. Let's listen.

ABDALLAH BOU HABIB: If there is a cease-fire in Gaza, what happening in the Red Sea would stop. What's happening in Lebanon would stop. And Israel continues to threaten with war if we don't stop.

ARRAF: Iran has condemned the U.S. attacks as a breach of Yemeni sovereignty, while, interestingly, Saudi Arabia, which has funded a war against Houthi rebels, called for avoiding escalation, saying it was monitoring the situation with great concern.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Jane Arraf. Thank you.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.