By Chayut Setboonsarng and Napat Wesshasartar
BANGKOK (Reuters) -Thailand said on Monday it is working with Jordan, Egypt and Malaysia to secure the release of its citizens taken hostage during a shock Hamas attack on Israel, with over 1,000 Thai migrant workers caught in the conflict looking to return home.
A dozen Thai nationals were killed, nine wounded and 11 more kidnapped, Thailand’s government said, when Hamas militants burst across the border fence from Gaza on a rampage that killed at least 700 Israelis.
Dozens of people were captured and taken back as hostages to Gaza, a small coastal territory ruled by the Islamist Hamas.
Some Thai workers were huddling in bunkers in southern Israel, awaiting rescue.
“We are coordinating with countries that have links to the country that have taken our nationals hostage to negotiate for their release,” Jakkapong Sangmanee, told a press briefing.
Negotiations towards securing the release of the Thai hostages have been “very positive”, Jakkapong said, without elaborating.
Some 1,400 Thais have signed up to be evacuated, he said, adding the first group to return home would be those injured.
Around 30,000 Thai nationals work in Israel, making up one of the largest migrant worker groups in the country, where fighting between Israeli troops and Hamas gunmen was still ongoing in several locations on Monday.
Over 400 people have been killed in Gaza after retaliatory Israeli air strikes hit housing blocks, tunnels, a mosque and homes of Hamas officials in the densely populated enclave.
Thailand’s air force has two aircraft on standby for evacuation flights, along with medics, and its national carrier may also be pressed into service, government officials said.
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, in a post on social media platform X on Monday, said the government accorded great importance to providing assistance and safety to Thais in Israel.
“Evacuations will begin immediately,” he said, adding that the first group of 15 Thais, some of them injured, would arrive home on Oct. 12 on a commercial airliner.
Some others will be repatriated in batches, he said, adding Thailand wished to see an end to the fighting and the situation to return to normal quickly.
‘I WANT TO GO BACK TO THAILAND’
Holed up inside a bunker in southern Israel with over 30 other Thai migrant workers, Udomporn Jampahom said he was desperate to return home. “I don’t feel safe at all,” the 37-year-old agricultural worker told Reuters. “We keep hearing blasts and bullets. We can’t go outside.”
Udomporn, who has two children back in Thailand, said he was working at a farm when he first heard rockets and then gunfire, before fleeing to a workers’ camp.
Two days after the attack began, Udomporn said he could hear bursts of gunfire from the bunker, where he and other Thai workers were awaiting evacuation.
Many were resting on cardboard strips laid on the bare floor, next to their belongings packed into suitcases, videos shared by Udomporn showed.
Udomporn said he wasn’t sure about when and how exactly the group would be able to leave Israel. “I can’t stay here,” he added, “I want to go back to Thailand.”
(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng and Napat Wesshasartar; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal and Orathai Sriring; Editing by Martin Petty, Christina Fincher and Mark Heinrich)