(Adds background of attacks by Houthis, war in Gaza and statement from Houthis from earlier in the day from paragraph 3 onward)

WASHINGTON, June 13 (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Thursday it destroyed two Houthi patrol boats, one uncrewed surface vessel and one drone over the Red Sea in its latest effort to degrade the capabilities of the Iran-backed group.

The Houthis, who control the most populous areas of Yemen, targeted the Verbena in the Arabian Sea as well as the Seaguardian and Athina in the Red Sea, the Iran-aligned group's military spokesman Yahya Saree said in a televised speech earlier on Thursday.

The attack on the

Palau-flagged Verbena

cargo ship sparked a fire and severely injured one of her crew, U.S. Central Command said.

The rebels launched two anti-ship ballistic missiles from a Houthi controlled area of Yemen into the Red Sea, the U.S. Central Command said, adding there was no damage or injuries from those missiles.

The Houthi militia has staged attacks on ships in the waters off the country since November in solidarity with Palestinians under Israeli assault in Gaza where nearly the entire 2.3 million population of the narrow coastal enclave

is displaced

and there is

widespread hunger and destruction


The U.S. Central Command said it "will continue to act with partners to hold the Houthis accountable and degrade their military capabilities."

The Houthi campaign has disrupted global shipping, forcing firms to re-route to longer and more expensive journeys around southern Africa. It has also stoked fears that the Gaza war - in which the local health ministry says

over 37,000 have been killed

- could spread and destabilize the wider Middle East.

The United States and Britain have carried out strikes against Houthi targets in response to the attacks on shipping.

Israel's assault on Gaza, which has also led to

genocide allegations that Israel denies

, followed an

attack on Israel

by Palestinian Hamas militants on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200, according to Israeli tallies. (Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Raju Gopalakrishnan)