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Italy to supply admiral for EU Red Sea naval mission

FILE PHOTO: Japan hosts trilateral defense ministers meetings in Tokyo

ROME (Reuters) - Italy will provide the admiral in command of a European Union Red Sea naval mission to protect ships from attacks by Yemen's Houthi militia, Defence Minister Guido Crosetto said on Friday.

Many commercial shippers have diverted vessels following attacks by the Houthis, who control much of Yemen and say they are acting in solidarity with the Palestinians in the face of Israel's attack on Gaza.

"The European Union today asked Italy to supply the Force Commander for the Aspides Operation in the Red Sea," Crosetto said in a statement.

The EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Wednesday he hoped the mission, to be named Aspides - meaning "protector" in ancient Greek - could be launched on Feb. 17.

Its mandate would be to protect commercial ships and intercept attacks, but not take part in strikes against the Houthis, Borrell said.

Crosetto said on Thursday that Greece would probably take overall command of the mission, to be headquartered in the city of Larissa, though this has not yet been formally announced.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Writing by Gavin Jones; Editing by Daniel Wallis)