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Israel-Hamas war: Israel signals future role in Gaza as fighting enters second month

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

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

Thai nationals make up the second largest group among the 240 people taken hostage, after Israelis.

Thailand is trying to reach Hamas through intermediary governments in Iran, Qatar, Egypt and Malaysia. Malaysian officials, who host representatives linked to Hamas and do not have diplomatic relations with Israel, told their Thai counterparts that the Thai hostages were alive, and the head of the Thai army saw photos of the captives, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said. said Monday.

Mr. Srettha did not say how many hostages were in the photos. But he said he hoped the Thais would be released as soon as there was a lull in Israeli bombing of Gaza.

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

Few images of the hostages in captivity have been seen publicly since the kidnappings, with the exception of two videos released by Hamas. Last month, photos posted on social media showed a group of Thai hostages, apparently in Gaza, sitting cross-legged as a masked man pointed an assault rifle at them. It was not clear whether the photos Mr Parnpree said he saw were different from those published earlier.

A total of four hostages were released from Gaza and one was rescued by Israeli forces.

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

Officials from Qatar and Egypt told him that the Thais in Gaza were 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 have to be rounded up for safe passage into Egypt, Mr Parnpree said. The Egyptian government is willing to receive the hostages at the Rafah border crossing, he said.

About 30,000 Thais were working on farms in Israel when Hamas militants crossed the border from Gaza last month. At least 34 people were killed in these terrorist attacks, the Thai Foreign Ministry announced on Tuesday. Israelis who helped the traumatized Thai community 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 to free the hostages, one of the negotiators said. About 10 percent of Thailand’s predominantly Buddhist population is Muslim. Most Thai farm workers in Israel are Buddhists from the country’s poor northeast.

On Tuesday, Watsana Yojampa, the mother of Anucha Angkaew, one of the suspected Thai hostages whose photo in custody was posted on social media last month, said she had had no communication with government officials. Thai or Israeli government regarding the status of his son.

Yet after hearing Thai media reports about the photos and negotiations, Ms. Watsana’s mood improved, she said.

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

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