Back home: Thai hostages speak of relief after release by Hamas

By AFP   November 30, 2023 | 05:29 am PT
Back home: Thai hostages speak of relief after release by Hamas
Thai workers taken hostage by Hamas and later released as part of a deal between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, pose with a member of Thai mission after a medical checkup, in Tel Aviv, Israel, in this handout image released on Nov. 25, 2023. Photo by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Thailand/Handout via Reuters
Thai hostages freed after weeks being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip spoke Thursday of their relief after returning to Bangkok, where they were welcomed home by overjoyed relatives.

Seventeen Thais flew back from Israel after Bangkok's foreign ministry and Thai Muslim groups worked to negotiate their release.

At least 32 Thais were abducted by the Palestinian militants when they attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping about 240, according to Israeli authorities.

A flight carrying the group of 17 -- along with Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara -- landed at Suvarnabhumi airport soon after 3:00 p.m. (0800 GMT).

"I am in better spirits... but I don't know how the other hostages are doing," one of the freed captives, Uthai Sangnual, told an impromptu news conference organized by officials in the airport arrivals area.

"They took care of me... not bad."

Dressed in white t-shirts emblazoned with the Thai and Israeli flags and carrying matching red luggage, the freed captives looked tired and overwhelmed as they arrived.

"It would be better if all of our friends could come back," Pornsawan Pinakalo, who was working on a potato farm when he was kidnapped, told reporters.

"When I was there I tried not to think too much about what might happen, because I was sad I wouldn't see my family again."

Tens of thousands of Thais were working in Israel when Hamas attacked, most of them farm workers from the kingdom's poor agricultural northeast.

Pornsawan's mother Lumpong Pinakalo, 51, spoke of her relief at her son's safe return.

"I've been following the news. At first when his name didn't appear as a hostage I was shocked thinking that he would be dead," she told AFP.

She urged the families of the nine Thais still held by Hamas to stay positive.

"If your child has been named as a hostage, I would say to have faith, because there is still hope."

Nattawaree Moolkan, the only woman among the Thai hostages, wept as she said: "Thank you for all your encouragement."

Nine Thais still held

Ten of the hostages were released last Friday, as a truce began following weeks of negotiations brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United States. Seven more were set free by Hamas in the days that followed.

The group recuperated at a hospital in Israel as authorities made preparations to fly them home, Thai officials said.

Foreign minister Parnpree thanked the Israeli authorities for looking after the Thais.

"I carried the feeling inside my heart for the past two months, so as soon as I met the 17 hostages I felt very happy, because I thought about how I would feel if it was my family," Parnpree told reporters.

Six more Thais were released on Tuesday and Wednesday and are undergoing medical checks, the foreign ministry said, taking the total number freed to 23, with nine still in captivity.

Israel retaliated to the Hamas attack with a massive campaign of air, artillery and naval strikes alongside a ground offensive into Gaza, killing nearly 15,000 people, mostly civilians, according to Palestinian officials.

Thailand had 30,000 citizens in Israel when the raid occurred, the majority of them migrant workers from poorer provinces in the kingdom's northeast.

Thirty-nine Thais have been killed and 19 wounded in the war, with the kingdom evacuating more than 8,500 of its people, according to Bangkok's foreign ministry.

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