Over the last several days, the Gaza-based militant group Hamas has released groups of hostages that it took during its attack on Israel on Oct. 7 in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, as part of a ceasefire deal agreed by the two sides last week. But Israelis and Palestinians aren’t the only detainees who have been gaining their freedom. As of Wednesday, 23 Thai nationals have also been freed by Hamas, with no conditions attached, as part of a separate arrangement with Bangkok that was mediated by several other nations.
“On behalf of my government and the families of the Thai hostages, I would like to extend our deepest gratitude to everyone we sought assistance from, namely the Governments of Qatar, Israel, Egypt, Iran, Malaysia and the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] for all of their strong efforts in securing this latest release of 10 Thai hostages,” Thailand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Parnpree Bahiddha-nukara, posted on X (formerly Twitter) on Saturday, Nov. 25, after the first batch of Thai hostages were released Friday alongside one Filipino hostage and shortly before the first release of 13 Israeli hostages.
Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced on X on Saturday night that four more Thai nationals were released, saying that “everyone is healthy” and “glad to be released.” The release, which coincided with the release of a second batch of 13 Israeli hostages, was reportedly delayed for several hours as Hamas believed Israel had violated the terms of their truce.
On Sunday, the third day of the ceasefire, Hamas released three more Thai hostages to the Red Cross, along with 13 more Israelis and one Russian. “I’m happy!” Srettha wrote on X of the latest release, adding that none of the three Thai nationals needed urgent medical treatment.
Two more Thai nationals were released on Tuesday, and were seen hugging each other and cheering as they arrived in Israel’s Shamir Medical Center, welcomed by the 17 hostages Thai released earlier. “A totally warm feeling to see how the former 17 were lining up to welcome and give moral support to the two newcomers,” Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara said in a post on X.
“We are not part of the conflict,” he told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.
Four more were released on Wednesday and brought to Herzarim Air Force Base, Srettha confirmed in a post on X.
All 23 Thai former captives have been named. The first 17 that were freed are expected to fly home on Thursday, Nov. 30.
The U.K.-based news site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed had reported last Thursday that 23 Thai hostages would be released as part of a deal brokered by Iran, but that report was never confirmed by Thai officials. An estimated 9 Thai hostages remain in Gaza, based on tallies previously provided by the Thai government.
Among the over 200 people from more than 40 countries abducted by Hamas since its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, at least 32 were Thai nationals—making up the single largest group of foreigners among the hostages. Thirty-two other Thai citizens have been killed, and 19 injured during the Oct. 7 attack, according to Thai authorities.
Bangkok has been engaging for weeks in its own diplomatic talks to free its nationals still held by Hamas. Thai officials traveled to Tehran on Oct. 26 to meet with senior Hamas representatives, according to Areepen Uttarasin, a Thai politician and one of the lead negotiators. Areepen told reporters in Bangkok in early November that Hamas had promised Thai negotiators that the Thai hostages were in “good care” and would be released at the “right time.”
The talks, which were not confirmed by Thailand’s foreign ministry, were held “through special personal relations” between Thai Muslim politicians and Iran, said Areepen.
Thai Prime Minister Srettha also said in early November that he had heard from Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim that 20 of the Thai hostages were safe and were being relocated to one location to wait for their release. The whereabouts of the remaining few Thai hostages were not known, he said at the time.
Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the group’s killing and capturing of dozens of Thai nationals shed light on the some 30,000 Thai nationals who work in Israel, mostly in the agricultural sector. Last month, Israel’s envoy to the U.N. showed a video to the General Assembly of what he said was a Hamas fighter decapitating a Thai farmer with a garden hoe. The video subsequently drew criticism from Thailand’s foreign ministry, which said that the airing of such graphic footage was disrespectful to the victim and his family.
In the wake of the attacks, Thailand has repatriated more than 7,000 of its citizens from Israel. Still, many others have chosen to remain in Israel despite safety concerns, because of the higher salaries there than what they would get at home. The Thai government has offered 50,000 baht (about 1,400 USD) to each worker, as well as soft loans, to encourage Thai nationals in Israel to return home. Srettha also said in October that he had raised to Israel’s ambassador allegations that some Israeli employers were offering more money or withholding salaries to Thai workers to keep them in Israel—claims that have been denied by the Israeli embassy.
The Israeli government and Hamas reached a deal last Tuesday for a ceasefire in Gaza that began Friday, Nov. 24, at 7 a.m. local time and is expected to last four days—the longest pause in hostilities since the Israel-Hamas war began—as well as the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners by Israel, in exchange for the release of at least 50 Israeli women and children captured by Hamas.
In light of the agreement between Israel and Hamas, Srettha said last Wednesday that he hoped Thai workers in Israel would not return to work near conflict zones during the suspension in fighting. “The government disagrees with them returning to risky areas, but we cannot force them,” he said. “ If they decide to do so, they have to take care of themselves.”
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