41 Thais come home after being evacuated from Israel-Hamas war

Nontarat Phaicharoen
41 Thais come home after being evacuated from Israel-Hamas war Katchakorn Pudtason, who was shot in the knee while trying to flee Palestinian Hamas militants in southern Israel, greets relatives after arriving at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Oct. 12, 2023.
Nava Sangthong/BenarNews

Thai national Katchakorn Pudtason was thankful to be back home and alive as he recounted how he was shot after hiding out for hours at an Israeli kibbutz during an attack by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.

He took a bullet to the leg as his boss tried to move him and other farm workers to safety, he recalled after he and 40 other Thais arrived at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok on Thursday aboard a commercial flight from Israel. 

“I thought I could not make it out alive until today. They fired salvos, not one round followed by another round,” Katchakorn told journalists as he described those tense hours on Saturday, when Hamas fighters raided the Moshav Mavki’im kibbutz as part of a devastating wave of rocket attacks and ground strikes into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip.  

When the violence broke out, the kibbutz boss sheltered him and other workers, he said.

“At noon time, he [the boss] said it was calm so he took us to change our clothes and have lunch. On the way to the residence, gunfire was heard from the roadside – a bullet struck my knee,” said Katchakorn, who sat in a wheelchair.  

“We told the boss to flee while we were ducking on the car floor. Bullets pierced through the car, injuring four out of eight of us,” he said, adding, “one was shot in the cheek.  

“The boss’s relatives helped shelter me and called a rescue unit that took me to a hospital.”

An unidentified Thai citizen hugs a child after arriving at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Oct. 12, 2023. [Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP]

Katchakorn was one of 15 Thai workers from the kibbutz whose flight home on El Al, Israel’s flag carrier, was sponsored by Thailand’s government while 26 others purchased their own tickets, according to government officials.

Another Thai, who identified himself as Boy, said because he feared for his life, he left his job and booked a ticket home, adding he did not want to be one of the thousands waiting to be airlifted out of Israel.

“When the attack erupted, I saw the visions of my wife, children and family – I didn’t know what was going to happen. My workplace was next to Gaza,” Boy told journalists at the airport.

“They sent me over to an evacuation camp in Haifa and asked me to work in another place. If a bomb landed, we could die, so I picked up my only bag, headed to Tel Aviv by taxi and bought a ticket home,” he said.

21 Thais killed

Thai officials estimate that about 30,000 citizens are in Israel, including nearly 5,000 living near flash points along the border with the Gaza Strip.

At dawn on Saturday, Hamas launched thousands of rockets and hundreds of its fighters infiltrated southern Israel to attack civilians and Israeli security forces, reports said. 

As of Thursday afternoon, 21 Thais had died in the violence, another 14 were injured, and 16 had been abducted, according to the Thai Embassy in Tel Aviv. In addition, nearly 6,000 Thais had signed up for evacuation. 

During an airport ceremony welcoming the first group of returnees, Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara said the government had asked Israel to assist in efforts to release the hostages as soon as possible and to find a way to return the bodies of those Thais who had been killed.

“There are 16 hostages. We are discussing with [partners] around there and the Israeli government to come to the rescue of the hostages as soon as possible,” Parnpree said, adding he believed they were alive and safe.

“We have no conflicts with any countries. I don’t see any motives to harm Thais,” he said. 

Hamas leaders have threatened to kill one hostage for each unwarned attack by Israel on the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian enclave that is home to more than 2 million people, according to media reports. Since Hamas launched the attacks on Saturday, fierce fighting has followed between both sides and Israel’s military has been bombarding the territory, reports said.

An Israeli soldier looks out from a tank as an artillery unit gathers near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, Oct. 12, 2023. [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

Thai Defense Minister Anutin Klangsang told reporters at the Bangkok airport that military officials were working on efforts to repatriate all of the Thais who had registered with the embassy in Tel Aviv.

“The air force could not fulfill the mission in time even with full aircraft unless we charter commercial airlines. We are looking into a Plan B by using air force transport planes to first move them to nearby countries such as the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

In the fighting at least 2,600 people on both sides have been killed as of Thursday, according to the Associated Press news service, which noted that the death toll was expected to climb.

Palestinian officials said at least 1,417 Palestinians had been killed and more than 6,200 injured. The dead include 450 children and 250 women, the AP reported.

An Israeli military spokesman reported that 222 of its troops had been killed.

On Thursday, according to an AP report, former Israeli Gen. Yaakov Amidror called on the military to bombard the Gaza Strip “as long as militants remain in the territory, even if it incurs massive casualties to Israeli soldiers.”

Palestinians leave their homes following Israeli airstrikes in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, Oct. 12, 2023. [Hatem Ali/AP]

Israel has called on more than 300,000 reservists into action.

In a separate story, the news service reported that a “high-ranking Hamas official” had warned that any Israeli invasion “would prove catastrophic for the Israeli army.”

Foreigners killed

A Thai who returned from Israel and asked to not be named said Israelis who had been killed were identified and buried following religious ceremonies, while the bodies of foreigners were being kept in morgues pending identification so they could be repatriated.

Among the dead are two from the Philippines – a 42-year-old man from the northern province of Pampanga, and a 33-year-old woman from the northern province of Pangasinan. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.  has promised to give the victims a “decent burial.”

Marcos said he spoke by telephone Wednesday evening to the man’s widow and assured her that his government would “provide all the necessary assistance” and give a proper burial once the security situation subsided.

“I just want to talk to you to offer my sympathies. What happened was a major conflict. Nobody thought that war would break out in Israel,” Marcos told the widow, according to his office.

“Tell us what you need. The government is here to help you. I just wanted to speak with you to let you know that we are thinking of you and sympathize with the whole family. The entire Philippines grieves with you,” Marcos said.

Nava Sangthong in Bangkok and Jason Gutierrez in Manila contributed to this report.


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