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France says downing of drones in Red Sea 'legitimate defence'

By AFP - Dec 12,2023 - Last updated at Dec 12,2023

The French Languedoc (D653), a FREMM multipurpose frigate, performs manuevers during the "Noble Dina 23" multilateral aeronautical exercise in the Mediterranean sea on March 27 (AFP photo)

PARIS — A French frigate that shot down two drones in the Red Sea was acting in self-defence after coming under attack from the unmanned aerial vehicles, the foreign ministry in Paris said on Monday.

The French general staff reported on Sunday that the Languedoc frigate, operating in the Red Sea, had opened fire on two drones heading straight towards it from the Yemen coast, destroying both.

The incident came after Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatened on Saturday to attack any vessels heading to Israeli ports unless food and medicine were allowed into the besieged Gaza Strip.

The foreign ministry said the drones were engaged in an "attack" on its vessel and had been downed in "legitimate defence".

The incident occurred amid "attacks and acts of piracy committed by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea", which represented a "worrying increase of assaults on the freedom of navigation in that zone", it added.

The ministry urged the Houthis to "immediately stop attacks on civilians" and the freedom of movement.

France was closely following developments in the Red Sea and called "on all actors to avoid any regional flare-up".

The general staff said on Sunday the drone interceptions happened at 20:30 GMT and 22:30 GMT on Saturday, 110 kilometres from the Yemeni coast and the port of Hudaydah, which is under rebel control.

The drones "were flying directly towards the vessel", the general staff said.

The frigate used surface-to-air missiles of the Aster 15 type, designed for defence against short- to medium-range threats, a military source told AFP, asking not to be named.

The French navy had not used surface-to-air missiles in self-defence before.

The incident came amid heightened tensions in the Red Sea and surrounding waters, following a series of maritime attacks by Houthi rebels since the start of the Hamas-Israel war on October 7.

In a statement posted on social media, the Houthis said they “will prevent the passage of ships heading to the Zionist entity” if humanitarian aid is not allowed into Hamas-ruled Gaza.

The Houthis have recently attacked ships they allege have direct links to Israel but the latest threat widens the scope of their targets.

Hamas welcomed the Houthi stance as “bold and courageous”.

A US destroyer shot down three drones earlier this month while providing assistance to commercial ships in the Red Sea that were targeted by attacks from Yemen, according to Washington.

It condemned what it said was “a direct threat” to maritime security.

Saturday’s incident was the first time that a French military vessel has been targeted by Houthis.

Israel has responded to the Hamas sudden attack with a relentless military offensive that the Hamas authorities in the besieged Palestinian territory say has killed thousands.

Yemen has a long coastline along the Gulf of Aden and the southern Red Sea, a strategic waterway to Israel in the north.


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