DON PILA, Thailand, Dec 7 (Reuters) – When Thai farm worker Anucha Angkaew emerged from the bunker where he had been sheltering from rockets on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip around 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 7 , I expected to see Israeli soldiers. .
Instead, Anucha and his five Thai colleagues were approached by 10 armed militants, whom he identified as Hamas by the Palestinian flags on their sleeves.
“We shouted ‘Thailand, Thailand,'” said Anucha, a soft-spoken 28-year-old with a wispy goatee. “But they didn’t care.”
Two of the six Thais were killed shortly after, including a friend who Anucha said was shot dead in front of him in a random act of violence. The rest were forced onto a truck for a roughly 30-minute ride to Gaza.
Anucha’s first-person account offers a glimpse into what many hostages endured, and some continue to endure. She described sleeping on sandy soil and beatings by Hamas captors, who, she said, singled out Israelis for especially brutal treatment.
To keep their hopes up, the four Thais relied on games of chess on a makeshift board, family memories and cravings for Thai food.
Few of the freed hostages have spoken at length about their ordeal, although others who have since been freed also described beatings and death threats.
Hamas officials did not immediately respond to a written request for comment on Anucha’s account.
“I thought I was going to die,” he said Wednesday at his family home in rural northeastern Thailand, where he returned this month after 50 days in captivity.
We spent almost all of that time inside two small underground rooms, secured by armed guards and accessed through narrow, dark tunnels.
At least 240 people – Israelis and foreigners – were kidnapped in Gaza on October 7 by Hamas militants who stormed across the border and killed about 1,200 people.
More than 100 hostages – mostly women, children and non-Israelis – have been freed.
In retaliation for the Oct. 7 attack, Israel mounted a devastating bombing campaign and ground offensive that has killed more than 15,000 people, according to figures from Palestinian health officials deemed reliable by the United Nations.
Some 130 people, including eight Thais, remain captive.
Before the war, around 30,000 Thai workers They worked in the agricultural sector, making them one of the largest groups of migrant workers in Israel. Israel offers laborers higher salaries.
Thailand, which has friendly ties with Israel, recognized Palestine as a sovereign state in 2012.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry has compared the dead Thai hostages to “heroes” and said the freed captives would receive the same benefits as their Israeli counterparts.
TWO MEALS, TWO BOTTLES OF WATER
Once in Gaza, the uniformed militants handed the Thais over to a small group of men who took them to an abandoned house and tied their hands behind their backs.
The Thais were joined by a terrified 18-year-old Israeli, a man Anucha said he knew from Kibbutz Re’im, where he worked on an avocado farm.
The beatings began soon after, when their captors punched and kicked them. “We shouted ‘Thailand, Thailand,'” he said, which eased the intensity of the blows. The young Israeli was not saved.
An hour later, the five were loaded into another truck which drove for about 30 minutes to a small building that led to a tunnel.
Near the mouth of the tunnel, they were beaten again and photographed, Anucha said, before walking down a dark hallway, about a meter wide, toward a small room.
In this windowless space, which measured about 1.5 meters by 1.5 meters and was lit by one light bulb, the five were joined by another Israeli.
The militants continued kicking and beating the captives for two days, Anucha said. After that, two more days of beatings continued against the Israelis, who were whipped with electric cables.
Anucha was not seriously injured, but weeks after his release from captivity, his wrist still had marks from the restraints.
The captives slept on the bare sandy ground. The six men were served flatbread twice a day and shared two bottles of water that were replenished daily.
Their bathroom was a hole in the floor near the room, where they were taken by one of eight guards armed with assault weapons that looked like AK-47s. The guards told them not to talk to each other.
“I felt desperate,” Anucha said.
Initially, Anucha counted the days according to the number of meals. After four days, the six were taken to another room.
During the walk, Anucha said the tunnel, which was illuminated by flashlights carried by his captors, was lined with metal doors.
‘THAILAND, COME HOME’
His new room was more spacious. They had plastic sheets to sleep on. Three light bulbs illuminated the space. A niche served as their bathroom.
The beatings stopped. The food improved to include nuts, butter and, later, rice.
Still using meals to measure time, Anucha left scratches on the ground to mark the number of days in captivity.
That changed when a guard brought some papers for them to sign. He, like the other guards, only spoke Arabic. The Israelis acted as interpreter for Anucha, who said he speaks rudimentary Hebrew.
But the guard left a white pen. They used it to mark time, draw tattoos, and draw a chess board on the plastic sheet. The chess pieces were made from a pink and green toothpaste box.
Another distraction was talking about food. Anucha longed for soi ju, a Thai delicacy made up of pieces of raw meat dipped in spicy sauce, which she dreamed of and which she talked about.
“Food was a source of hope,” he says, smiling.
Weeks passed. Anucha had no idea about the Israeli raids and bombings on the surface. She often thought about her home, her father, her seven-year-old daughter, and her partner of 14 years.
On the 35th, a man dressed in black arrived for a brief inspection. From his demeanor and the respectful behavior of the guards, the captives assumed that he was a senior Hamas leader.
Their routine resumed, until one day, after their first meal, a guard arrived and announced, “Thailand, go home.”
The four Thais were driven through tunnels for about two hours and arrived by land at a Hamas facility, where a handful of Israeli hostages were also waiting.
About 11 hours later, they were handed over to the Red Cross, which expelled them from Gaza on November 25.
“I didn’t think they would release me,” he said, “it was like I was reborn.”
But the hardest part was what he saw on Oct. 7, Anucha said. “I lost my friend before my eyes.”
Additional reporting by Artorn Pookasook; Written by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Katerina Ang
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Devjyot reports from Southeast Asia, focusing on business stories and those involving the nexus of money and power. Previously, he was a politics and general news correspondent based in New Delhi, where he was part of the Reuters teams that won the Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Indian Journalism and the South Asian Journalists Association Award . He graduated from Columbia University, King’s College London and Loyola College in India.