A veteran Thai politician from Thailand’s Muslim minority has said he met Hamas officials in Iran in an effort to secure the release of the Thai nationals being held captive in Gaza by the Palestinian group.
Former lawmaker and education minister Areepen Uttarasin said on Friday that he held two hours of “direct talks” with Hamas officials in the Iranian capital, Tehran, on October 26.
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“I told them that I am here not to negotiate but simply to ask for their release,” said Areepen, who declined to name the people he met.
The Hamas officials told him that the Thai captives were safe and well looked after, but they did not agree to a date for their release. He said they were “waiting for the right time”.
At least 23 Thai nationals were among more than 240 people kidnapped by Hamas during the group’s unprecedented attacks on Israel on October 7. Of the more than 1,405 people Israel says were killed in the attacks, at least 32 were Thai.
Thailand’s foreign ministry did not confirm the backchannel discussions, but said it welcomed assistance from all parties as the government seeks the release of the captives via multiple channels.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin spoke to Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu on the phone on Wednesday and received assurances that Israel was making every effort to free those held by Hamas, including Thai nationals who form the largest group of captives in Gaza from any single foreign country.
Netanyahu also pledged to ensure care for all foreign nationals.
However, according to local media, the Thai government is planning a mass evacuation of its nationals from Israel this week, amid the escalating situation on the ground.
Israel ranks third behind South Korea and Taiwan for registered Thai migrant workers and about 30,000 Thais work in Israel, mostly in agriculture.
Earlier, Thailand’s Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara said Qatar, Iran and Egypt had agreed to send Thailand’s request to free the captives to Hamas immediately.
“I wanted them to convey that to Hamas because I’m worried Hamas doesn’t know that they are just agriculture workers,” Parnpree told a press conference.
On the “Thai labourers in Israel” Facebook page, desperate relatives of the captives have listed the home towns they hail from which include some of the poorest places in Thailand.
Despite the dangers, some Thais in the group also said that opportunity must come before their security. One worker said he would go back [to Israel], no matter how bad the security situation gets.
In the rush of comments that followed, another post summarised the feelings of many Thai overseas workers: “Poverty is scarier.”