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Irish-Israeli girl reunited with father who feared she was dead as Hamas release 9-year-old hostage

Emily Hand is one of 13 Israeli and four Thai hostages freed in second group since Israel-Hamas ceasefire began

Rebecca Black
Sunday 26 November 2023 09:15 GMT
Moment Red Cross convoy carrying hostages leaves Gaza

A nine-year-old girl feared dead by her father after she was taken captive by Hamas has been freed.

Emily Hand, nine, was held hostage by militants in Gaza after being captured in the deadly attack on Kibbutz Be’eri on 7 October.

Her father Thomas, originally from Dun Laoghaire in Dublin, last week made an emotional appeal for her release, saying the family was living through a “nightmare”, and getting Emily back was his “reason for living”.

Emily was one of several children released by Hamas (AP)

After her release, Emily’s family released a statement saying they were “overjoyed” to be able to embrace the 9-year-old agin and thanked the world for “unwavering support” in trying to secure her return.

“We can’t find the words to describe our emotions after 50 challenging and complicated days.”

Emily had been having a sleep over with her friend Hila Rotem who was also freed - although Raya, Hila’s mother remains in Gaza.

“At the same time, we remember Raya Rotem and all the hostages who have yet to return.” the family added. “We will persist in doing everything in our power to bring them back home.”

Emily and her father Thomas Hand, who feared she had been killed (Natali Hand)

Emily turned nine this month while in captivity and her family in Ireland held a birthday party for her at St Stephen’s Green in the Irish capital as they campaigned for her release.

Her father met Irish president Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tanaiste Micheal Martin. Mr 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.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Mr Varadkar said while Emily is now returning to her family, it cannot be forgotten 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 and lasting peace,” he said.

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