Bangkok – November 25, 2023
In a heartwarming turn of events, VetoonPhoome, a Thai farm worker who was feared to have perished in last month’s Hamas attack on Israel, has emerged alive and well after being released in a deal between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. Vetoon, 33, who had been living in Israel for five years, was one of 10 Thai hostages freed during the first truce of a seven-week-old war initiated by the Palestinian militant group’s assault on southern Israel on October 7.
The emotional reunion between Vetoon and his family unfolded via a video call, bringing immense relief to his sister, RoongarunWichagern, who shared, “He told me not to cry, to tell mother I’m coming back.” Vetoon’s survival is being hailed as a “miracle,” with his reassurance to his sister: “I’m not dead, I’m not dead.”
The release of the 10 Thai hostages occurred as part of a broader agreement that saw 24 hostages freed on Friday. This deal unfolded concurrently with a truce and an exchange of 39 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. However, Thailand’s government revealed that 20 of its nationals are still held captive.
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin affirmed the government’s unwavering commitment to secure the release of the remaining captives, stating, “We will not stop. We will bring them back.” The effort involves high-level diplomatic engagement, with Thailand’s foreign minister and army chief set to travel to Israel to bring the freed hostages home.
Iran’s Embassy in Bangkok claimed on social media that Tehran played a facilitating role in the release by providing a list of names to Hamas, following a request from Thailand’s Foreign Ministry and a parliamentary speaker. A Thai foreign ministry spokesperson clarified that Thailand had shared lists with various stakeholders, including Qatar, Egypt, Israel, and Iran, noting that different actors had varying degrees of influence on Hamas.
Approximately 30,000 Thai nationals work in Israel, constituting one of the largest groups of migrant workers in the country, primarily in agriculture. Vetoon recounted shouting “Thailand, Thailand!” when approached by militants before being captured and held in tunnels. Fortunately, he was unharmed, well-fed, and not subjected to torture.
The released hostages, including the only known Thai woman held by Hamas, underwent medical checks in Israel. They are expected to return home after 48 hours in the hospital. The Thai Foreign Ministry expressed gratitude to Egypt, Iran, Israel, Malaysia, Qatar, and the International Committee of the Red Cross for their “immense efforts” in facilitating the release.
The negotiation process leading to the release appears distinct from the truce deal with Israel, involving separate talks with Hamas mediated by Egypt and Qatar. Thai Muslim politicians had traveled to Tehran in October, meeting senior Hamas officials, setting the stage for these positive developments.
While the first group of released hostages, including VetoonPhoome, rejoins their families, the families of the remaining captives anxiously await further news, hoping for their loved ones’ safe return.