Thai farm workers reported abducted amid Hamas-Israel fighting

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Thai farm workers reported abducted amid Hamas-Israel fighting Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, as seen from Sderot, southern Israel, Oct. 8, 2023.
Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

UPDATED at 10:40 a.m. EDT on 2023-10-11

Hamas fighters are believed to have taken 11 Thai nationals captive in southern Israel near the Gaza Strip during attacks that the Palestinian military group launched this weekend against the Jewish state, Thai officials said Sunday.   

At least one Thai farm worker was feared killed in the outbreak of violence, which started on Saturday, Thai government officials said. Subsequent fighting between both sides has left hundreds dead and at least 2,000 people injured in Israel and the Gaza Strip, according to reports.

“At present, the [Thai] embassy is coordinating with authorities in Israel to confirm the following information on Thai nationals in Israel, which is one fatality, eight injured, and eleven people captured,” Parnpree Bahiddha-Nakara, Thailand’s minister of foreign affairs and deputy prime minister, told a press conference Sunday.

“At this stage the Israeli forces could not secure the ground and so it cannot [yet] confirm the toll or any information officially,” Parnpree said.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin had ordered the Royal Thai Air Force to be ready to fly missions to evacuate Thai nationals from Israel, the minister said.  

At dawn on Saturday, Hamas launched a barrage of rockets and carried out raids into Israeli territory, in a surprise attack that coincided with the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah and came almost 50 years to the day marking the start of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, reports said.

The attacks prompted Israeli Prime Minister BenjaminNetanyahu to declare that his country was “at war” with Hamas. Israeli forces hit back with air strikes targeting the Gaza Strip, one of two territories under Palestinian control.  

The Palestinian Health Ministry said 232 were killed and 1,790 were injured in Gaza, U.S.-based ABC News reported. On the Israeli side of the border, at least 100 people were killed and more than 900 others were injured, the network said, citing information from the Israeli Health Ministry.

A Thai farm hand, who works in Zikim, Israel – less than two miles (3.2 km) north of the Gaza Strip – said that he and other Thai workers saw dozens of missiles streaking through the sky on Saturday.

“There is fighting going on. Helicopters keep flying all the time,” Wutthichai Panisen told BenarNews via Facebook Messenger on Sunday.

Thousands of Thai nationals work as farm hands in Israel. In May 2021, two Thai agricultural workers were killed and another eight were injured in Moshav Ohad, southern Israel, in an explosion by a Hamas rocket fired from Gaza.

After Hamas combatants infiltrated Israeli territory near Gaza, photos that allegedly showed Thais and other people in the custody of the Palestinian militants began circulating on social media.

On Sunday, the sister of a Thai man said she believed her brother was among the captives because she had recognized his face in one of the photos. She said that her brother’s fate remained unknown because his phone signal had been cut off since Saturday. He was working on a farm in Re’im, southern Israel, east of the border with Gaza. 

“There is no update on Nont. Friends in Israel said there is no development so far,” the man’s sister, Rasikarn Phanuariyaphat told BenarNews, referring to her brother by his nickname. “May Nont be safe. God bless him.”

Palestinians inspect the rubble of a building after it was struck by an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Oct. 8, 2023. [Fatima Shbair/AP]

As of August, more than 4,533 Thais were working in areas of southern Israel close to the Gaza Strip, according to the Thai Ministry of Labor. There are about 30,000 Thais working throughout Israel, according to the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

“Israel is regaining control of the intruded areas. They [the Israelis] gained some ground but not where the Thai workers were reportedly being held,” Pannabha Chandraramya, the Thai ambassador in Tel Aviv, told the news conference in Bangkok via a video link.

“Those captured included not only Thai but Israelis and workers from other nations,” she said. “The embassy is restless to monitor the situation and provide the Thai workers with assistance soonest.”

International reactions

On Saturday, Srettha, Thailand’s newly installed prime minister, joined other countries in condemning the attack by Hamas on Israel.   

“Inhumane attacks … cost innocent lives and [cause] injuries,” Srettha said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “And I would like to express my deepest condolences to the government and people of Israel. This incident should not have happened. And I join with the international community in condemning such actions.”

In Washington, the Biden administration issued several statements, including one from the White House saying “the United States unequivocally condemns this appalling assault against Israel by Hamas terrorists from Gaza” and that its support for Israel’s security was “rock solid.”

In Beijing, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said China “was deeply concerned over the current escalation of tensions and violence between Palestine and Israel.”

“We call on relevant parties to remain calm, exercise restraint and immediately end the hostilities to protect civilians and avoid further deterioration of the situation,” the ministry said

“The recurrence of the conflict shows once again that the protracted standstill of the peace process cannot go on. The fundamental way out of the conflict lies in implementing the two-state solution and establishing an independent State of Palestine.” 

In Manila, the Marcos administration said the president had instructed responsible agencies “to locate and account for all overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families in Israel.”

Tens of thousands of Filipinos work in Israel.   

Thai workers collect freshly harvested fennel near Kibbutz Alumim in southern Israel, Feb. 7, 2017. [Amir Cohen/Reuters]

Meanwhile in Jakarta, the government of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation stopped short of condemning Hamas.

“Indonesia is deeply concerned with the escalation of conflict between Palestine and Israel,” the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a message posted on X. “Indonesia urges the immediate end of violence to avoid further human casualties.”

“The root of the conflict, namely the occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel, must be resolved, in accordance with the parameters agreed upon by the U.N.,” it added.

And in neighboring Malaysia, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was blunt as he expressed his solidarity with the Palestinian people.

“The international community continues to take one-sided action regarding all forms of cruelty and oppression to the Palestinian people,” Anwar said in Malay via X. 

The Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also issued a statement.

“The root cause [of the conflict] must be acknowledged. The Palestinians have been subjected to the prolonged illegal occupation, blockade and sufferings, the desecration of Al-Aqsa [Mosque], as well as the politics of dispossession at the hands of Israel as the occupier,” the ministry said.

Imran Vittachi in Washington contributed to this report.

CORRECTION: An earlier version incorrectly reported that more than 4,533 Thais were working in Israel as of August 2023.


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