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EU launches mission to protect ships in Red Sea from Houthis. It won鈥檛 partake in military strikes

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BRUSSELS (AP) 鈥 The European Union has launched Monday a naval mission to help protect cargo ships in the Red Sea as attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen continue to threaten maritime traffic, hamper trade and drive up prices.

Dubbed Aspides, Greek for 鈥渟hield,鈥 the mission will be run out of Larissa in central Greece 鈥 home to the Hellenic Air Force and a NATO headquarters 鈥 under the command of Greek Commodore Vasilios Griparis.

The Iranian-backed Houthis have waged a persistent campaign of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships over Israel鈥檚 offensive in Gaza against Hamas which began in October. However, the Yemen-based rebels have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for global trade between Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

In response, U.S. and British forces have bombed multiple targets used by the Houthis.

However, the EU mission will not take part in any military strikes and will only operate at sea.

鈥淲ithin its defensive mandate, the operation will provide maritime situational awareness, accompany vessels, and protect them against possible multi-domain attacks at sea,鈥 EU headquarters said in a statement after the bloc鈥檚 foreign ministers had endorsed the mission.

鈥淭he entire global economy is being hit. It鈥檚 not just European ships that are repeatedly jeopardized by Houthi missiles in the Red Sea, but the entire international shipping industry,鈥 German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters in Brussels.

She said that apart from protecting European ships, the mission 鈥渕akes it clear that we as an international community stand together in the face of attacks; terrorist attacks on the freedom of the sea lanes.鈥 Germany is contributing a frigate to the mission, as is Belgium.