Thai worker ‘ducks and crawls’ to flee kibbutz as Hamas guns down friends

By Juarawee Kittisilpa and Artorn Pookasook

NONG BUA LAMPHU, Thailand (Reuters) – Thai farm worker Kittipong Chaiyako watched six of his friends shot dead when Hamas militants attacked the Israeli kibbutz where he was working and said it was the “scariest day” of his life.

The 34-year-old had been working for a year at an avocado farm at the Kissufim kibbutz in southwestern Israel, next to the Gaza Strip, when sirens forced him to take cover in a bomb shelter last Saturday.

After about an hour of waiting, Hamas fighters arrived and started shooting people in the kibbutz.

“It was the scariest day of my life because I saw the soldiers and militants shooting at each other… They were fighting and I had to duck and crawl to escape,” Kittipong told Reuters in northeastern Nong Bua Lamphu province where he was greeted on Friday with a traditional home-coming ceremony in which loved ones tied threads to his wrist.

“The fighting was happening right in front of me. As Hamas came, the Israeli soldiers fired more rounds at them. I witnessed it all, the smoke billowing from the vehicles while the spent ammunition ricocheted against our camp.

“Those images didn’t really affect me, but the faces of six of my friends who were killed in the attack have never left my heart. I can’t even describe the loss.”

Kittipong said he left behind all his possessions, including his passport, and fled with only the clothes on his back and a mobile phone.

Kittipong’s mother, 62-year-old Noopan Chaiyako, hugged her son and cried.

“We sent our son to work abroad to earn money to improve the family and then the war erupted,” she said. “If my son had been killed, how would I be able to live?”

Kittipong was among the first batch of Thais repatriated from Israel who arrived home earlier this week.

There are some 30,000 Thais, mostly from the rural northeast, working in Israel’s agriculture sector, according to government data.

At least 21 Thai nationals were killed, 14 injured and at least 16 taken hostage on Saturday, the Thai foreign ministry said on Friday. More than 6,700 Thais are looking to be repatriated.

Kittipong said he would not be returning to Israel after seeing his friends killed in front of him.

“We ate together, we joked around together, we worked together and had great times,” he said.

“Then this happened, I can’t wrap my head around it.”

(Reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa, Artorn Pookasook, additional reporting by Panu Wongcha-um, editing by Nick Macfie)