- By Thanyarat Doksone
- BBC News
A woman who believed her boyfriend was killed in the 7 October attack on Israel has spoken of her joy at realising they would soon be reunited.
Kittiya Thuengsaeng told the BBC she recognised Wichai Kalapat in TV images of the 10 Thai hostages released from Gaza on Friday.
It was feared Wichai was among Thai citizens killed in the Hamas raid.
She said confirmation her boyfriend was among the foreign nationals being held only came five days ago.
Two days after the 7 October attack, Kittiya was given the devastating news her boyfriend of three years was believed to be among a group of at least 30 Thai nationals killed.
She posted messages on social media mourning the man she planned to marry next year when he returned from Israel, where he had travelled for work.
However, when an official list of the dead was published, Wichai’s name was not on it.
After an agonising wait for information, Kittiya discovered last week that he was among 26 Thai citizens being held hostage inside Gaza.
Speaking to the BBC after seeing him alive in a car carrying hostages from the border to an Israeli hospital, she said: “I’m so happy because I feared he wouldn’t be among those released.
“I want him to heal from any mental condition he may have first, then he can return to Thailand.
“Right now, I can wait for him. I’ve been waiting for so long, I can wait a little longer.”
Thai nationals were disproportionately impacted as around 30,000 have travelled to Israel for work, primarily in the agriculture sector.
Among them were Thai nationals Boonthom Pankhong, 39, and his girlfriend, Natthawaree Mulakan, who were also released by Hamas on Friday.
Boonthom’s family told BBC Thai that he had been working in Israel for five years when he was kidnapped, and that he was the family’s main breadwinner, sending money home to Thailand regularly.
His sister Urai Chantachart told BBC Thai the family were told about the release by Boonthom’s nephew, who still works on a farm in Israel, and that they were “overjoyed”.
“Our family has been suffering for over a month, but we never thought he was dead. We strongly believed that he [was] still alive,” she said.
Looking at a photo released by the foreign affairs ministry, she said she thought her brother looked “better than expected”, although he seemed to have lost weight.
Urai was not sure whether he and his girlfriend would return home or stay in Israel. They are both receiving treatment at Shamir Medical Center in Israel, she added.
Other families are nervously awaiting news to find out if their loved one is among those whose release was secured on Friday.
Thongkoon Onkaew, the mother of Natthaporn Onkaew, a 26-year-old Thai farmer, said the last time she spoke to her son was on the morning of 7 October, when he was planning to play football with friends.
She said: “I wish my son is one of the first being released. It has been a painful month with no good news.
“I wish my son and other Thai hostages are safe, I thank all the authorities for the effort negotiating the release of Thai nationals.”
Wanida Maarsa, the wife of Anucha Angkaew, 28, said: “I need to call the local representative to check the news. I am now bombarded with messages.
“If my husband is one of them, I would be so happy.”
Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin initially said 12 people were released, but an official from the Qatari government – which has mediated between Israel and Hamas – later said the number was 10.
The release of Thai nationals is separate to an agreement which is expected see 50 Israeli hostages freed from Gaza during a temporary four-day pause in fighting.
Thirteen Israeli citizens – all women and children – and a Filipino national were among the first group of hostages to be freed.
Israel has released 39 Palestinian detainees as part of the agreement.
Thailand’s foreign ministry said its freed citizens would be placed under medical supervision without access to relatives for 48 hours after being transferred to an Israeli hospital.
A statement issued by the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it sent its heartfelt congratulations to the released Thai nationals and their families, and would do all possible to get them home to Thailand quickly.
Additional reporting by Tossapol Chaisamritpol