The Thai death toll from the Hamas attack on Israel has risen to 18 while about 3,000 Thais in the country also want to return home, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Jakkapong Sangmanee said yesterday.
He said the return of the bodies of those killed to Thailand must wait until Israeli forces have fully secured areas affected by the conflict. The victims' bodies are unreachable until then.
Mr Jakkapong said Thai workers continue to be evacuated from at-risk areas in Israel.
About 30,000 Thai workers are in Israel, with about 5,000 in the conflict area. About 3,000 had so far expressed their desire to return home. The first group were expected to return tomorrow, Mr Jakkapong said.
The deputy foreign affairs minister said that about 100 Thais had made it clear they did not want to come home immediately.
The repatriation process would initially depend on commercial and chartered flights because military aircraft were not allowed to land in Israel as fighting is near the airports, Mr Jakkapong said.
Government spokesman Chai Wacharonke said yesterday that Mr Srettha had been closely monitoring the situation in Israel and instructed relevant agencies to prepare to assist Thai nationals there. The spokesman said that the Thai embassy in Tel Aviv had reported on the progress of the evacuation of Thais, and priority has been given to evacuating Thai workers who have been hardest hit by the fighting.
"The government is trying to mobilise all resources and personnel to contact and help every Thai worker in Israel and ask Israeli authorities to assist in the evacuation," Mr Chai said.
As for the operation to move dead bodies out of the conflict zones, Israeli authorities have prioritised efforts to evacuate people who are stranded in risk areas.
Since most Israeli security and emergency personnel have been dispatched to battle areas, there are not many able to assist in retrieving dead bodies, he said, adding that identification of bodies will take some time.
Kanchana Patarachoke, director-general of the Foreign Affairs Ministry's Department of Information, held a press conference on the situation in Israel. She was joined via video by Pannabha Chandraramya, the Thai ambassador to Israel, who provided updates and details of preparations to evacuate Thai nationals.
According to the Thai embassy in Israel, the Israeli military has regained control of the territory that Hamas attacked, and they and relevant agencies have evacuated hundreds of civilians, including Thai nationals, from at-risk areas near the Gaza Strip to safe zones.
Ms Pannabha said the Israelis are looking for people reported missing and are using facial recognition technology. They are coordinating closely with the Thai embassy, she said.
As of yesterday, 18 Thais had died, she said, citing unofficial reports from employers and pending official confirmation from Israeli authorities. Eleven Thai nationals have been taken hostage, she said, adding that nine Thais have been injured.
She said the Thai embassy has also arranged for the initial repatriation of 15 Thai nationals via El Al Airlines. They include injured Thai nationals who are fit for travel and those who have been transferred to safe zones.
They are scheduled to arrive at Suvarnabhumi airport tomorrow. The next repatriation of 80 Thai nationals is scheduled for next Wednesday, Ms Pannabha said.
Ms Kanchana said that Thai ambassadors in Israel's neighbouring countries have contacted the foreign affairs ministries in those countries to discuss alternative evacuation routes for Thai nationals and any other assistance the Thai nationals may require.
Regarding those abducted, Thailand is using every diplomatic and any other channel possible to convey its concerns and request assistance for those held, Ms Kanchana said.
She said Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara received a phone call from Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Eli Cohen, who expressed his condolences to Thai nationals affected by the conflict and reassured them that the Israeli government will do its best to protect Thai nationals.
Labour Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said the Labour Ministry will pay for bringing Thai workers back home.