'Hamas ready to free all Thais'
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'Hamas ready to free all Thais'

Wan's hostage talks a success, Iran rep says

Each holding a Thai flag, Thai workers from Israel disembark at Don Mueang airport on Thursday morning. (Photo: Royal Thai Air Force)
Each holding a Thai flag, Thai workers from Israel disembark at Don Mueang airport on Thursday morning. (Photo: Royal Thai Air Force)

Recent negotiations with Iran have gone smoothly, with the Palestinian militant group Hamas poised to release all Thai hostages immediately, according to Saiyid Sulaiman Husaini, leader of an association of Shia Muslims in Thailand.

Mr Husaini provided an update on Friday on the progress of the negotiations, saying the team formed by House Speaker Wan Muhamad Noor Matha arrived in Tehran and launched into talks with Hamas at 10am local time on Friday.

The team is being led by former Narathiwat MP Areepen Uttarasin and Lerpong Syed, Mr Husaini's brother.

The majority of Iranians are Shia Muslims, whereas most Palestinians and Hamas militants are Sunnis.

Iran is believed to be supporting Hamas with funds, weapons and training in its ongoing war with Israel.

Mr Husaini reportedly has a strong reputation and wields considerable influence among Shia Muslims both in Thailand and in neighbouring countries.

"(Friday) morning, the negotiations went smoothly. But details cannot be disclosed until the negotiation is concluded," Mr Husaini wrote.

"Hamas has given a signal to Thai representatives that it will release Thai hostages immediately when the situation is safe as they claimed that Israel is attacking all sides of the Gaza Strip (in a bid to) to sacrifice foreign hostages to discredit Hamas."

A Thai negotiating team led by former Narathiwat MP Areepen Uttarasin, left, arrives on Friday to launch talks with Hamas representatives in Tehran, Iran. House Speaker Wan Muhamad Noor Matha formed the team to help release all 18 Thai hostages being held in the Gaza Strip. (Photo: Saiyid Sulaiman Husaini Facebook Page)

Khampee Disthakorn, a spokesman for the House speaker, said Mr Wan was negotiating with parties on all sides of the Israel-Hamas conflict, regardless of their religion, to help release all of the Thai hostages.

His scheduled visit to Saudi Arabia next Friday has now been postponed, however, after the Saudi government said it is not ready to welcome guests amid the ongoing war.

Separately, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin refuted a report on Friday claiming that 54 Thai nationals are among the 220 hostages being held in the Gaza Strip.

"I have checked and verified the situation with our Thai ambassador in Israel, as well as with security agencies, and they confirm that 18 Thais are being held. The number 54 may be the result of some sort of confusion," he said.

Reuters quoted the Israeli government mid-week as saying the number was 54.

Mr Srettha also referred to the issue of Thai workers whose salaries have not been paid and who wish to return home.

He said he had spoken to Orna Sagiv, Israel's ambassador to Thailand, and the salaries will be paid as soon as they leave the country.

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Kanchana Patarachoke said the current Thai death toll from the conflict stands at 33, with 18 others injured and the same number held hostage.

So far, the remains of 15 Thais have been returned to the kingdom, she said, adding that 4,771 Thais have returned to Thailand on 23 government-sponsored flights.

At least 40 Thais who enrolled to study at the Arava International Centre for Agriculture Training in Israel have returned to Thailand, while 75 others wish to remain in the country, she said.

She advised those who are staying there to make safety their top priority, recommending they return home first and reconsider their options.

Labour Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said the ministry would not send Thai workers to resume their jobs in Israel until the war has ended.

Mr Phiphat urged Thai workers to enjoy some rest with their families in their home provinces while the Employment Department negotiates with Israel on how to allow them to resume working there once the situation returns to normal.

Israel has decided to extend for another year the work permits of those whose contracts have ended, Mr Phiphat said.

The ministry is also in talks with South Korea and other countries in Europe, as well as Australia, to see if they have demand for Thai workers with expertise in agriculture, he said.

Some countries have already informed Thailand that they wish to recruit Thai workers for fruit picking or farm jobs, he added.

Mr Phiphat said the ministry will compensate Thai returnees from Israel to the tune of 15,000 baht each. It will seek a bigger budget from the cabinet next week, he added.

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