10 hostages kept in isolation for medical and security screening before they meet Thai Embassy officials in Israel. Kittiya Thuengsaeng says she can wait a bit longer to see her boyfriend Wichai Kalapat who was previously declared dead in the chaos following the October 7th invasion.
Friday saw ten Thai hostages released by militant group Hamas from captivity in the Gaza Strip following their kidnapping nearly seven weeks previously on October 7th when the terrorist group invaded Israel murdering 1,200 people and taking hundreds back across the border as captives. The release was tempered by the revelation that four more Thai detainees were being held than previously thought while for one Thai woman, it was confirmation of news revealed to her just days previously, that her boyfriend had come back from the dead.
On Friday, as Hamas released Thai hostages in a separate agreement negotiated between Bangkok and the militant group in association with Qatar and Iran, a Thai woman watching television was overjoyed to see her boyfriend, who she was previously told had been killed in the October 7th invasion by the militant group, among the hostages travelling in a Red Cross vehicle across the border into Israel.
An excited Kittiya Thuengsaeng was watching the activity after being contacted by Thai officials two days ago with the news that her boyfriend Wichai Kalapat was among those on the verge of being released from captivity.
Girlfriend told just two days previously that her boyfriend had not perished as previously reported by officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Thai woman had already been informed two days after the October 7th attack that her boyfriend had been listed among the Thai dead.
The Thai woman had already publicly mourned and accepted the loss of her loved one in emotional posts on social media after the October 7th massacre.
She then got the call from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok who told her to be on standby for good news.
Kittiaya has shared her joy with the BBC saying: ‘I am so happy because I feared he wouldn’t be among those released. I want him to heal from any mental condition he may have at first. Then he can return to Thailand. Right now, I can wait for him. I have been waiting for so long. I can wait a little longer.’
Also among the 10 Thais released on Friday were 39-year-old Boonthom Pankhong and his girlfriend Natthawaree Mulkan, the only Thai woman being held in captivity who is now free and in the care of Israeli medics and debriefing officers.
29-year-old Thai farm worker and his girlfriend released together from Gaza, she was the only Thai woman held by Hamas. Both are from rural Thailand
Mr Boonthom’s sister told the BBC that the family were overjoyed at his release.
He had been employed as a contract labourer on a farm near the border with Gaza which thousands of Hamas militant invaders overran on October 7th murdering over 1,200 civilians and taking captives back to the Gaza enclave which the terrorist group assumed control over in 2015.
‘Our family has been suffering for over a month, but we never thought he was dead. We strongly believed that he was alive,’ his sister Ms Urai Chantachart disclosed to the BBC report.
Formerly, Mr Boonthom and Ms Natthawaree left Thailand to seek work and economic opportunity in Israel from a poor, rural part of Thailand.
However, amidst the joy and celebration among families of the ten hostages released by Hamas, there was the inevitable disappointment among the other Thai relatives whose loved ones had been left behind in the Hamas tunnels in Gaza.
Among them was the mother of 26-year-old Natthaporn Onkaew, who told Thai media that she is still waiting for good news, and continues to liaise with Thai officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirms that 20 Thai nationals are still being held prisoner by the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza, mainly held underground
The news on Friday was also mixed for the Thai government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as only 10 captives were released as opposed to all the hostages, while it emerged that there were four more Thais in captivity than previously estimated.
This means that 20 Thai nationals remain to be released, mostly being held by the militant groups in its extensive network of underground tunnels.
The numbers were confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday.
In an update to the media, the ministry revealed: ‘There are now an estimated 20 Thai nationals who remain abducted. We sincerely hope the remaining hostages will be treated humanely and released safely as soon as possible.’
The news that the number of Thai hostages before Friday’s release was 30 people instead of 26 has raised questions about the intelligence and the accuracy of information being relayed to Thai officials in Bangkok and the accuracy of the information on the ground in Israel in the chaotic aftermath of the October 7th invasion and massacre of civilians.
Previous reports suggested 54 Thai captives
Over the past weeks, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thailand vehemently denied a report circulated on Israeli media that 54 Thai hostages were being held in captivity when initially it was thought that the number of captives was 19.
Credible reports last week suggesting as many as 54 Thais were being held hostage by Hamas were strenuously denied by senior officials in Bangkok
On Friday, Thai officials made it clear that the release of the 10 Thai hostages was a separately brokered agreement between the Thai government and Hamas negotiated through intermediaries such as Iran, Qatar and Malaysia while the ceasefire negotiated between the militant group and the Israeli state allowed the essential pause in hostilities for a transfer to take place.
Srettha Thavisin says Thai Embassy staff in Tel Aviv will meet the hostages after a 48-hour hiatus for essential medical care and security screening
On Friday evening, via Twitter or X, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin revealed that the Thai hostages were being treated at the Shamir Medical Center in Be’er Ya’akov in Central Israel and that Thai staff from the embassy in Tel Aviv were on their way to the hospital to meet them in due course.
The Prime Minister pointed out that it would take 48 hours before the 10 hostages were allowed to meet other people under the required security and medical protocols in such a situation.
Later on Saturday, while in Sa Kaeo Province, Mr Srettha vowed that Thai officials would keep striving to secure the release of the remaining 20 hostages.
He revealed that Thai Foreign Minister Mr Parnpree Bahiddha-Nu-Kara would be travelling to the Middle East to meet the hostages and to bring them home to Thailand.
The PM also had a special word of thanks to the armed services for their assistance in coordinating the rescue efforts.
Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nu-Kara who is to fly to the Middle East to bring back the 10 captives congratulates all involved in releasing them
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Parnpree, congratulated the relatives of all the people involved and foreign parties who had assisted the Kingdom’s government in bringing what he termed innocent people back to safety.
He also committed the government to securing the release of the remaining 20 hostages.
In the meantime, Mr Srettha said that he would be taking up the issue of the hostages with the Prime Minister of Malaysia Mr Anwar Ibrahim whom he was due to meet on Monday, November 27th.
Malaysia has played a key role also in the negotiations to secure the freedom of Thai hostages being held in Gaza.
Mr Srettha was asked at length about the prospect of future releases of Thai hostages and suggested that this may be possible as there would be further ceasefires.
However, he declined to comment further on the situation or on information passed on to the Thai government by Iranian’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mr Ali Bagheri who was in Bangkok on Thursday.
The Prime Minister said the focus now would be on looking out for the health and safety of the Thai hostages just released and ensuring that they are returned home.