At Least 10 Thai Hostages Released by Hamas

AP Photo/Leo Correa
An Israeli ambulance is seen leaving the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza, in Israel, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023.

BANGKOK (AP) — Hamas freed at least 10 Thai nationals seized in the group’s surprise attack on southern Israel last month, releasing them alongside Israeli hostages who were part of the first swap under a new cease-fire deal.

Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara wrote online that he was “overjoyed.”

He had traveled more than three weeks ago to Egypt and Qatar to seek their help in obtaining the hostages’ freedom. Thais were the biggest single group of foreigners taken hostage.

Thais often travel to Israel to work as farmhands, carers or other types of semi-skilled laborer, at wages considerably higher than those at they can earn at home.

One of the Thai men released Friday cared for an elderly man who lived at Nir Oz, one of more than 20 towns and villages in southern Israel that were ambushed in the sweeping assault by Hamas launched from the embattled Gaza Strip.

The village said Friday that it “welcomes the return from captivity of Gelienor (Jimmy) Pacheco, 33, the devoted carer of the late Amitai Ben-Zvi, who was murdered during the terrorist attack.”

Thailand thanked Qatar, Israel, Egypt, Iran, Malaysia and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“It is our deep hope that all remaining hostages will be taken care of, and will be safely released at the earliest opportunity,” the Thai Foreign Ministry said.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin was the first Thai official to post news of the release, writing on the X social media platform, formerly known as Twitter, that 12 had been freed. The spokesman for the Qatari foreign ministry, Majed al-Ansari, posted on X that the number was 10.

Thailand said that it was checking the conflicting information.

The Thai foreign ministry statement said the released workers crossed into Israel and were on their way to Hatzerim air base for processing, after which they would be sent to the Shamir Medical Center, where embassy officials would meet them.

A spokesperson for the hospital said staff were informed around 4 p.m. local time that they would be receiving the Thai hostages, which would be about the same time Thailand’s prime minister and Egyptian officials made the news public.

Prof. Hagai Levine, head of the medical team at the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum, said that getting medical information about the Thai hostages’ pre-existing conditions has been trickier than with released Israelis.

Ratana Sriauan, is a digital content creator from the province of Udon Thani in the poor northeastern region of Isan, where most of Thailand’s overseas workers hail from, and she wrote on Facebook about an abducted friend whom she callled by a nickname.

“I wish you Tee, to be among the group that has been released. God blessed them. I am delighted for the relatives of those who got their loved ones released and will see them soon.”

Iran and Thailand maintain friendly relations and prominent members of Thailand’s Muslim minority made unofficial trips to Tehran to seek the hostages’ freedom.

Foreign Minister Parnpree had said that his Iranian counterpart, who was serving as Thailand’s intermediary with Hamas, had told him there would be “good news soon.”

Government leaders in both Thailand and Iran like to point out that relations between the two countries date back more than three centuries, with diplomatic missions from Persia followed by Persian families settling in what was later to be called Thailand.

Some of the descendants of the early Persian settlers became prominent in Thai society and even in politics, although Thailand is 90% Buddhist with a relatively small Muslim population.

Trade, particularly the sale of Thai rice to Iran, has helped maintain good bilateral relations, despite sometimes heavy handed efforts to suppress a Muslim separatist insurgency in the deep south, where the provinces have Muslim majorities.

The missing workers were among about 30,000 Thais employed mostly in Israel’s agricultural sector. According to Thailand’s foreign ministry, 39 were killed in the Oct. 7 attacks, and 26 abducted. More than 8,600 workers have been voluntarily repatriated since the attacks, the Labor Ministry has said.