Emily: Relief as nations prayers answered

by Rachel Cunningham
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Emily Hand reunited

It was the moment everyone had waited for as nine-year-old Irish-Israeli girl Emily Hand rushed into her father’s arms 50 days after she was kidnapped by Hamas.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar declared that a nation’s prayers have been answered with the embrace of father and daughter.  “An innocent child who was lost has now been found and returned, and our country breathes a massive sigh of relief,” he said.

Emily Hand was reunited with her Dad Tom, a native of Dun Laoghaire, on the second day of a temporary ceasefire, which allowed humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip to enable the release of  50 Israelis and 150 Palestinians being held captive.

Last Friday’s truce brought brief respite for the 2.3m Palestinians in Gaza, which has been under relentless Israeli bombardment following the October 7 Hamas attack.

Speaking from the hospital, Mr Hand thanked the public for their support. “Emily has come back to us!” said her Dad. “We can’t find the words to describe our emotions after 50 challenging and complicated days. We are overjoyed to embrace Emily again, but at the same time, we remember Raya Rotem and all the hundreds of hostages who have yet to return.”

“She’s lost a lot of weight from her face and body but generally doing better than we expected. We’re still fighting and want Raya Rotem’s mother Hila back. As they promised they wouldn’t release children without their mothers, but they did.

“We’re in the hospital Safra, Tel Hashomer taking care of Emily. We’d like to thank everyone that has helped and supported us throughout this whole 50 days. It’d been great, we can’t do it without you.”

Emily, who celebrated her ninth birthday in captivity on November 17, was abducted in Kibbutz Be’eri during a sleepover with her 13-year-old friend Hila, who was also released on Saturday. She had been initially reported dead, but was later counted among the hostages. 

She was one of 13 hostages released by Hamas on Saturday, while Israel released 39 Palestinians, a group of six women and 33 minors, from two prisons, the WAFA news agency reported.

The hostage release agreement came under threat on Saturday, when Hamas announced it would not release further captives because Israel was failing to respect the truce deal.

Israeli forces had been shooting at Palestinians attempting to reach their homes and was not releasing prisoners in accordance with agreed guidelines and was also falling short of agree aid delivery targets.

Qatari and Egyptian diplomats aided in mediating the continuation of the agreement.

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar added: “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,” he added.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, welcomed the release of Emily.

“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,” he said.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald  welcomed Emily’s return to her family, adding that Ireland must remain a voice for peaceful dialogue on the international stage. “The trauma and heartbreak that little Emily and her family have been subjected to over the last number of weeks is unimaginable,” she said.

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