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Satellite pictures show airstrip on Yemen’s Socotra amid Red Sea tensions

This March 26, 2024 satellite image shows a new airstrip being built on the UAE-occupied Abd al-Kuri island off Yemen's coast, with the phrase 'I LOVE UAE' written in the dirt. (Photo via AP)

Satellite pictures have unveiled a new airstrip which is being built on a strategic island in Yemen’s Socotra Archipelago, amid tensions in the Red Sea over Israel’s war on Gaza.

The pictures, released on Thursday, showed several vehicles leveling the surface of the alleged runway on the strategic island of Abd al-Kuri.

The Associated Press news agency, which obtained the images via Planet Labs from the past few days, said the runway measures nearly three kilometers.

“A runway of that length can accommodate attack, surveillance, and transport aircraft, even some of the heaviest bombers,” the AP analysis said.

One of the satellite images showed sand carvings with the sign "I love the UAE". Abu Dhabi, however, has yet to claim ownership of the construction works.  

The purpose and details of the new structure are unclear, and no country has confirmed it was building an airstrip in the area.

AP reported that construction in the area started in January 2022, with images from Planet Labs showing what appeared to be a diagonal, shorter runway being carved out of the ground.

According to the report, there were other signs of construction of a longer north-south runway in July 2022, but work stopped later.

Abd al-Kuri is one of four islands in the Socotra Archipelago in the northwest Indian Ocean near the Gulf of Aden. It is the nearest to the Horn of Africa and lies at the entrance of the strategic maritime route of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

UAE-backed separatists of the so-called Southern Transitional Council (STC) took control of Socotra in the aftermath of the 2015 Saudi-led war on Yemen.

In November 2021, the Arabic-language 'September Net' news website, which is affiliated with the Yemeni Defense Ministry, reported that the United Arab Emirates is constructing a military base, under the supervision of Israeli military experts. The report said an Emirati ship laden with heavy military equipment and munitions anchored off the coast of Abd al-Kuri island.

Back in August 2020, the French-language news outlet JForum also reported that Israel, in cooperation with the UAE, was planning to build intelligence-gathering bases on Socotra.

The report said Israel and the UAE were making all logistical preparations to establish intelligence bases to collect information from across the Gulf of Aden, including Bab el-Mandeb and south of Yemen, which is under the control of forces backed by the UAE.

The newly released photos come as tensions have been heightened in the Red Sea due to Israel’s war in Gaza that killed over 32,500 people.

In solidarity with the Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, the Yemeni armed forces have targeted ships in the Red Sea with owners linked to Israel or those going to and from ports in the occupied territories.

The US and the UK have also been carrying out numerous attacks against Yemen as a means of trying to pressure the country into stopping a series of operations that it has been conducting in support of Gazans.

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