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Hostage

Emily Hand - the 9-year-old Irish-Israeli girl held hostage by Hamas - has been released

The 9-year-old Irish-Israeli girl was originally believed to have died in the 7 October attacks.

IMG_1918 Emily (in pink) in a video released by Hamas (Screenshot: Al Jazeera)

EMILY HAND, THE 9-year-old Irish-Israeli girl who had been held hostage in Gaza since the 7 October attacks, has been released.

Confirming the news, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said “our country breathes a massive sigh of relief” and that “our prayers have been answered”. 

Emily had been on a sleepover in the Kibbutz Be’eri where she lived, when it was raided by Hamas last month. 

Emily’s father, Tom, who is from Dublin, was initially told she had died in the attack. 

Fifty of the 241 hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza are to be released, under the terms of a ceasefire deal.

Most were taken during the 7 October attacks in which 1,200 Israelis were killed. 

Almost 50 days since she was taken hostage, Emily is now on her way home to Israel. 

The armed wing of Hamas said this evening that it had handed over 13 Israeli hostages to the Red Cross under the terms of an agreement with Israel, along with an additional seven foreign citizens.

The transfer – which had been delayed after Hamas accused Israel of violating the agreement, claims denied by Israeli officials – took place “in the context of the humanitarian pause”, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades said in statement.

IMG_1912 News of Emily's release on Israeli TV

The Journal understands Tom Hand has been told his daughter has been freed and he is currently waiting to meet her. 

In his statement this evening, Varadkar said the past seven weeks have been “a slow and cruel torture” for Emily’s family. 

Addressing the horror’s of her kidnap, he said, “A little girl was snatched from her home and held captive for almost seven weeks. She spent her ninth birthday as a hostage. We hope she will soon heal and recover from the traumatic experience in the loving embrace of her family.”

In the lengthy statement, he added: “We all recall the initial response from her father Tom Hand – the painful grief mixed with relief with the mistaken belief that his daughter had not been taken hostage, which turned into an ember of hope when it was discovered she was still alive.  

“Throughout all these different emotions his love has been constant. Tom and Emily’s half-sister Natali turned that ember of hope into a flame by channelling their sorrow and campaigning tirelessly for Emily’s release. They travelled across Europe to keep her plight in the public eye. When I met Tom and Natali in Dublin, their pain was etched on their faces, but so was their courage and determination to ensure that Emily would be freed.  

I shared their grief and was inspired by their example.

“Irish people everywhere share in the relief of Emily’s family. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the hostages in Gaza, but we followed particularly closely the fate of Emily, a dual Irish-Israeli citizen.  

“Since our country first heard that she may still be alive, we have hoped beyond hope that her name would be on one of the lists of hostages to be released. Emily now returns to her family, but we cannot forget that many more hostages remain in captivity in Gaza.

“Their fate is unknown, but we hope that like Emily, they will also be allowed to return to their homes and their families. We think of all the families suffering in this troubled region, and we redouble our efforts to work for a permanent ceasefire, and for a just a lasting peace.”

Tànaiste and Minister of Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said he was delighted that Emily Hand, who he described as a ‘bright and beautiful young girl’, has been released.

Emily

“After weeks of trauma, this is a precious and deeply moving moment for the Hand family. The people of Ireland have been touched by Emily’s story, her innocence and the quiet dignity and determination of her father, Tom,” he said, adding that he had met Tom before travelling to the region recently. 

“I was struck by the strength and resilience with which he advocated for his daughter’s release. This is a message that I and my colleagues in government sought to amplify as we engaged internationally, through political, diplomatic and security channels, in a bid to secure Emily’s safe return.”

Martin also acknowledged the role played by the US, Qatar and Egypt in securing the release of hostages.

Echoing the Taoiseach’s words, he said: “I am conscious today that many more hostages remain in the hands of Hamas. I reiterate my call that all hostages in Gaza should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald thanked the mediators, namechecking Qatar, after welcoming Emily’s release.

“The trauma and heartbreak that little Emily and her family have been subjected to over the last number of weeks is unimaginable,” she said in a statement. 

“I commend the mediators’ efforts, including the government of Qatar and all other neighbouring states, for the constructive role that they have played in securing the release of Emily and the other hostages, as well as Palestinian women and children who were imprisoned under administrative detention, who are finally reuniting with their loved ones today,” she said in the statement, which also called for a full ceasefire. 

The Israeli ambassador in Ireland, Dana Erlich, said, “Our hearts are with the family of Emily Hand, and the families who are reunited with their loved ones tonight.

“Unfortunately until the last moments Hamas inflicted psychological terror on the families. Our prayers are with those who remain kidnapped in Gaza, and we continue to work tirelessly along with other parties, for their immediate release.”

With reporting by AFP