Emily Hand among Gaza hostages freed on Saturday – BBC News

Video caption,

Moment nine-year-old Irish-Israeli hostage is reunited with her father

A nine-year-old Irish-Israeli girl is among the latest hostages to be freed by Hamas in the Israel-Gaza conflict.

The Israel Prison Service said 41 Palestinians had been freed under the hostage agreement.

Emily’s father Tom Hand said the family could not “find the words to describe our emotions after 50 challenging and complicated days”.

“We are happy to hug Emily again, but at the same time, we remember Raya Rotem and all of the hostages who have yet to come back. We will continue to do everything in our power to bring them back home,” he said.

He said thanked everyone who “helped and hugged us” while Emily was held.

Image source, Family Handout

Tánaiste (Irish deputy PM) Micheál Martin said “a bright and beautiful girl” had been released.

He said it was “a precious and deeply moving moment for the Hand family”.

‘Strength and resilience’

“The people of Ireland have been touched by Emily’s story, innocence and the quiet dignity and determination of her father Tom,” Mr Martin said.

Image source, Family handout

He said he had met Mr Hand and had been “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 though political, diplomatic and security channels in a bid to secure Emily’s safe return,” he added.

Four Thai nationals who had been held hostage in Gaza were also freed on Saturday night.

In a statement the Israeli prime minister’s office said: “The Israeli government embraces the 17 abductees who returned to Israel, 13 of our citizens and four Thai citizens who returned to Israel today.”

Image source, Family handout

An earlier delay to a release of hostages was resolved following mediation with Egypt and Qatar.

Mr Martin said he wanted to acknowledge the role played by the “US, Qatar, Egypt and others that have been involved” in securing Emily’s release.

However, he added that he was aware “many more hostages remain in the hands of Hamas,” and called for all of them to be released.

Varadkar criticised, ambassador summoned

Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said “prayers had been answered”.

“This is a day of enormous joy and relief for Emily Hand and her family,” he said.

“An innocent child who was lost has now been found and returned, and we breathe a massive sigh of relief.”

“Emily Hand was not ‘lost’, she was kidnapped by a terror organisation worse than ISIS that murdered her stepmother,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

He later wrote that he had “summoned the Irish ambassador to Israel for a reprimand” following Mr Varadkar’s “outrageous” comments.

It is unclear when the ambassador, Sonya McGuinness, will be summoned or what action will be taken.

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Meanwhile, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald also welcomed the news of Emily Hand’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.

“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 called for all hostages be released urgently and for an immediate full ceasefire to be in place.

The released hostages arrived in Israel on Saturday night, the country’s military said.

Israel Defence Forces said the hostages had undergone an initial medical assessment before being taken to hospitals and reunited with their families.

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Emily had been held without any of her family with her.

Her father spoke at a press conference in London on Monday, crying as he said he was sure his daughter would be asking every day: “Where’s my daddy, why didn’t he come to save me?”

Image source, Family handout

Mr Hand has been campaigning around the world for his daughter’s release.

He had originally been told she had been killed.

She turned nine while being held by Hamas. He said he realised it would take a long time to fix the mental trauma his little girl will have suffered.

Image source, Norma Burke/PA

Image caption,

Thomas Hand has been waiting for news of his daughter

Israel’s military began attacking Gaza after Hamas fighters crossed the border on 7 October, killing 1,200 Israelis and taking more than 200 hostages.

The Hamas-run health ministry says more than 14,500 people have been killed in Gaza – more than a third of them children – since Israel began its retaliatory action.

Under the terms of the Israel-Hamas temporary truce, a total of 50 hostages will be released during a four-day pause in fighting which began on 24 November at 07:00 (05:00 GMT).

Hamas said 150 Palestinian women and teenagers will be released from Israeli jails under the deal, and hundreds of lorries of humanitarian aid, medical supplies and fuel will be allowed into Gaza.




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