DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A ballistic missile fired by Yemen's Houthi rebels slammed into a cargo ship Friday in the Red Sea near the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait, following another attack only hours earlier that struck a separate vessel, authorities said.
The missile attack on the MSC Palatium III and the earlier assault on the Al Jasrah escalate a maritime campaign by the Iranian-backed Houthis. The attacks also endanger ships traveling through a vital corridor for cargo and energy shipments for both Europe and Asia from the Suez Canal out to the Indian Ocean.
The Houthis say their attacks aim to end the pounding Israeli air-and-ground offensive targeting the Gaza Strip amid that country's war on Hamas. However, the links to the ships targeted in the rebel assaults have grown more tenuous as the attacks continue.
“The Yemeni armed forces confirm they will continue to prevent all ships heading to Israeli ports from navigating in the (Red Sea) until they bring in the food and medicine that our steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip need,” the Houthi military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, said in a statement claiming responsibility for Friday's attacks.
Meanwhile, hijackers, likely from Somalia, separately seized a Bulgarian ship in the Arabian Sea.
A U.S. defense official and the private intelligence firm Ambrey said the MSC Palatium III, a Liberian-flagged container ship, caught fire after the strike. It…