17 Thai, 1 Filipino hostage released by Hamas as part of ceasefire deal with Israel
By Michelle De Pacina
November 27, 2023
As part of a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Hamas has released a total of 58 hostages, including Thai and Filipino citizens, in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners.
Temporary truce: On Nov. 21, Israel agreed to a four-day ceasefire with a deal to release three Palestinians for every Israeli hostage allowed out of Gaza. The exchange deal resulted in the release of 117 Palestinians, primarily women and minors.
Over the first three days of the truce, 13 Israeli women and children were released each day by Hamas, as well as citizens from Thailand, the Philippines, Poland and Russia. On Sunday, when the third of four groups planned to be exchanged took place, 39 Palestinian teenagers were also freed from the Israeli prison service and were transported to Ramallah. Tearful reunions with families have followed, facilitated by negotiations and coordination between the conflicting parties with foreign mediation assistance.
Thai hostages: In total, 17 Thai nationals were freed by Hamas from Gaza from Friday to Sunday. Among Hamas’ 200 hostages since the Oct. 7 attack were at least 30 Thai nationals, the largest group from a single country excluding Israel. Since the attack, 32 other Thai citizens have been killed and 19 others injured.
The negotiation of the release of the hostages was facilitated by the Thai government with the help of various countries, including Qatar, Israel, Egypt, Iran, Malaysia and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Reuniting with family: The release has brought joy to many families, including Buasri Jirachart, a mother from northeast Thailand, who experienced immense relief when her son was shown in a video walking towards a car in Egypt after nearly 50 days in captivity.
“It was like a mountain was lifted off my chest,” Jirachart, who frequently visited numerous Buddhist temples to pray for her son’s release, told The Washington Post.
“We are all very happy. Everybody is crying,” Rungarun Wichangern, whose brother Vetoon Phoome was also released, told The Guardian. “I was crying at first, but he said: ‘Don’t worry, don’t cry.’ Physically he looked OK, and I think mentally as well because he was smiling.”
Kanyaporn Raektaisong, 35, also cried and prayed every night for the return of her husband, Santi Boonphrom, reported Matichon. Their son had reportedly become a monk for 15 days while awaiting his return.
“I want to hear my husband’s voice, saying that he’s boarding [a plane to return],” Kanyaporn was quoted saying. “We will go to the airport to pick him up. I will make canned fish stir-fry, his favorite dish. I will do whatever to make him happy.”
Thai workers: There are approximately 30,000 Thais residing in Israel, most of whom work in the agriculture sector. Many of those are low-wage farm laborers from the nation’s impoverished northeast who sought higher wages in Israel.
Thai authorities had since worked on potential evacuation options, returning home around 7,000 nationals. However, many other Thai workers have chosen to stay in Israel despite the conditions due to higher pay. The Thai government is encouraging repatriation by offering compensation, including 50,000 baht ($1,400) and soft loans.
Filipino hostage: On Friday, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. shared on X that he was “overjoyed” to confirm the release of Filipino worker Gelienor “Jimmy” Pacheco. Marcos also expressed concern about the whereabouts of another national, Ms. Noralyn Babadilla, and pledged to make every effort to locate and ensure her safety if she is confirmed to be one of the other hostages.
“He is now safely in the custody of officials in our Israel Embassy,” Marcos wrote. “I salute the work of the Philippine Foreign Service in securing his release, and once again thank the State of Qatar for their invaluable assistance in making Jimmy’s release possible.”
About Pacheco: Pacheco, a 33-year-old father of three, was working as a caretaker when he was captured by Hamas.
According to Foreign Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega, financial and livelihood assistance to Pacheco will be given if he chooses to return home. Additionally, the Israeli government has committed to providing him and his immediate family with lifetime social security benefits and regular stipends, similar to those given to Israelis who are victims of terrorist attacks. Pacheco is eligible to receive a pension from the Israeli government. After 49 days in captivity, Pacheco’s wish now is to be reunited with his family in the Philippines.
“What he wants is to get well first, sort out his documents and come home before Christmas,” de Vega told the Inquirer. “He probably wants to take a Christmas vacation.”
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