Monday, July 15, 2024

The foreign minister of Thailand said Tuesday that officials he had met in Qatar and Egypt indicated the Thai hostages held by Hamas and other armed groups would be the next to be released because they had nothing to do with the war.

According to Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara, Thai officials working to secure the release of 24 Thai agricultural workers have seen photos of the hostages who were abducted on Oct. 7 in southern Israel.

Thai nationals comprise the second largest group of the estimated 240 people taken hostage, after Israelis.

Thailand has been trying to reach Hamas through intermediary governments in Iran, Qatar, Egypt, and Malaysia. Officials from Malaysia, which hosts Hamas-linked representatives and does not maintain diplomatic relations with Israel, have told their counterparts in Thailand that the Thai hostages are alive, and the Thai army chief has seen photos of the captives, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin of Thailand said on Monday.

Mr. Srettha did not specify how many hostages were shown in the photos. But he said that he was hopeful that the Thais would be released as soon as there is a lull in the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

Mr. Parnpree went to the Middle East last week to work on securing their release. On Tuesday, he said that he, too, had seen photos of hostages in “the Gaza area” but that they were blurry and he could not be sure whether the people were Thais.

Few images of the hostages in captivity have been seen publicly since the abductions, apart from two videos that Hamas released. Last month, photos published on social media showed a group of Thai hostages, purportedly in Gaza, sitting cross-legged as a masked man aimed an assault rifle at them. It wasn’t clear if the photos Mr. Parnpree said he saw were different from the ones released earlier.

In total, four hostages have been released from Gaza, and one was rescued by Israeli forces.

The hostages in the photos seen by Mr. Parnpree had black hair, he said, and were sitting cross-legged in a room with people of other nationalities and looked “lively.” They were not obviously tied up, he said.

Officials in Qatar and Egypt told him that the Thais in Gaza are being held in two or three separate groups, and that some were being held by armed groups other than Hamas.

To be released, the Thais would need to be brought together to cross to safety in Egypt, Mr. Parnpree said. The Egyptian government is willing to receive the hostages at the Rafah border crossing, he said.

Roughly 30,000 Thais were working on farms in Israel when Hamas militants poured over the border from Gaza last month. At least 34 were killed in the terrorist attacks, the Thai Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday. Israelis who have been helping the traumatized Thai community there estimate that 80 Thais were killed, taken hostage or missing and presumed dead.

Muslim negotiators from Thailand traveled to Tehran late last month to meet with Iranian and Hamas officials who promised to work on the release of the hostages, one of the negotiators said. About 10 percent of people in Buddhist-majority Thailand are Muslim. Most of the Thai farmworkers in Israel are Buddhists from the country’s impoverished northeast.

On Tuesday, Watsana Yojampa, the mother of Anucha Angkaew, one of the presumed Thai hostages whose photo in confinement was published on social media last month, said that she had not had any communication with Thai or Israeli government officials about her son’s status.

Still, after having heard Thai news reports about the photos and the negotiations, Ms. Watsana’s mood had lifted, she said.

“I have hope now,” Ms. Watsana said. “I feel lighter.”

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