Thai hostages from Gaza return home, mourn fellow workers

By Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat

BANGKOK (Reuters) -When the first group of Thai nationals held hostage by Hamas in Gaza arrived at a Bangkok airport, they asked for a moment of silence to mourn the Thai labourers who were killed.

“I’m saddened that my 39 fellow workers who died and would like everybody to take a moment to mourn their loss,” the group’s representative Uthai Saengnuan told reporters on Thursday.

Hamas gunmen from Gaza killed 39 Thais and abducted 32 Thai labourers during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, according to the Thai government.

The first group of 17 returned on Thursday from a total of 23 who have been released in Gaza, with nine remaining in captivity.

The returnees stood calmly in a line, some wearing shirts with the Thai and Israeli flags.

“I would like to thank the Israeli and Thai authorities who helped us … and hope that the others will come back,” he said.

Before the war, around 30,000 Thai labourers worked in the agriculture sector, making the group one of Israel’s largest migrant worker groups.

So far, 9,000 Thais have been repatriated.

“All Thais were worried about you,” Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said told the returnees via a video call as they gathered for the press conference at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Thai migrant workers in Israel come mainly from the Southeast Asian nation’s rural northeast, seeking higher pay to send home to their families.

Family members waited on Thursday to greet their relatives at the airport.

“The support of friends and allies helped secure the release of Thai hostages,” Foreign Minister Pranpree Bahiddha-Nukara told reporters, adding that the government would continue its efforts in securing the release of those who remain captive.

Pranpree said he held had talks with his counterparts in several Middle Eastern countries with Hamas contacts. He was previously in Cairo and Doha for talks.

A Thai Muslim group that held direct talks with Hamas said their efforts were crucial in securing the early release of Thai hostages. On the first day of the ceasefire, 10 Thai hostages were released without condition.

(Reporting by Napat Wesshasartar, Artorn Pookasook, Thomas Suen, Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat;Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Alison Williams)