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Thomas Hand was reunited with his daughter, Emily, late last night. IDF
Emily Hand

'Broken but in one piece': Father of freed hostage Emily Hand is reunited with his daughter

President Michael D Higgins said he hopes Emily can now “enjoy a happy and fulfilling life”.

THE FATHER OF nine-year-old Emily Hand, who was released last night after being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza for almost 50 days, has been reunited with is daughter.

Thomas Hand, originally from Dun Laoghaire in Dublin, spoke to the Daily Mirror newspaper after the news of Irish-Israeli Emily’s release last night.

In a message he said: “We have been waiting for far too long for this moment. Every day has been a long and painful living nightmare.”

“My Emily is coming home at last, broken but in one piece,” he added.

hand released Emily (in pink) and other hostages reunited with their families last night. IDF IDF

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

Thomas Hand added that he is looking forward to giving Emily a “huge hug” and told the newspaper that her beloved dog Johnsie and cuddly toys were waiting to greet her when she is released to the family.

The family are planning to give the young girl – who spent her ninth birthday in captivity – “the best birthday party she never had”.

Images released by the Israeli Defence Forces show that Emily has since been reunited with her father, who greeted her with a big hug.

thomas hand 4 Thomas Hand holding Emily Hand after both were reunited upon Emily's release last night. IDF IDF

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

Almost 50 days since she was taken hostage, Emily has been reunited with family in 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.

President Michael D Higgins, who earlier this month met with the Hand family and families of others who have been held hostage in 7 October, has said he hopes Emily can now “despite all that she has endured, enjoy a happy and fulfilling life”.

Higgins said: “The release of Emily Hand brings to an end what has been a horrific time for all of her family.

“May I send my best wishes to Emily, to her father Thomas and her sister Natali who I have met in recent weeks, and to all those who are close to her after what I know has been an extremely traumatic time.”

It is my great hope that Emily can now, despite all that she has endured, enjoy a happy and fulfilling life after what has been an unimaginable situation for such a young child.

Higgins said the release of Emily to her family has been a priority of the Government in their diplomatic efforts in recent weeks, adding that he thought it was important to recognised the work of the team.

As reported by The Journal earlier this month, a small team of Irish officials spread across the Middle East and in Dublin were working quietly and secretly through diplomatic channels in an attempt to rescue Emily Hand. 

It was determined by the Israeli military, through gathered intelligence, that there was a strong possibility that Emily Hand was among the hostages taken. 

emily hand

Along with Emily Hand, President Higgins also met with the families of captured Shoshan Haran, and of Adi, Naveh and Yahel Shoham. It was announced that all four were also released yesterday.

Higgins said : “I also welcome the release of Shoshan Haran, and of Adi, Naveh and Yahel Shoham, whose relatives I also met with the Hand family.”

The full list of hostages released last night was posted to X, formerly Twitter, by the Israeli state account last night.

On X last night, Tánaiste Micheál Martin also welcomed the Shoshan Haran and Adi, Naveh and Yahel Shoham. Martin said he was “very pleased” to learn the news.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described “a day of enormous joy and relief for Emily Hand and her family”.

“An innocent child who was lost has now been found and returned, and our country breathes a massive sigh of relief. Our prayers have been answered,” 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.”

He paid tribute to her family’s tireless campaigning for Emily’s release.

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.

“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.”

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

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald thanked the mediators 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.

In his statement, Higgins also renewed his calls for a ceasefire.

“While we particularly recognise this important moment as an Irish-Israeli child is released we must also retain a focus on what is now needed – a durable ceasefire,” Higgins said.

“The release of all remaining hostages, and a commitment from all sides to engaging in the task of building what can be an enduring peace.”

Includes reporting by Christine Bohan.