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Irish-Israeli girl among hostages released from Gaza

Emily was held captive by Hamas after being captured at a kibbutz during the October 7 attack.

Emily was held captive by Hamas after being captured at a kibbutz during the October 7 attack. Photo: AAP

Emily Hand had her ninth birthday as a hostage in Gaza, the day before she was reunited with her father, who initially believed she had been killed in the devastating attack by Hamas gunmen on Israel.

She was held captive by Hamas in Gaza after being captured in an attack on Kibbutz Be’eri near the Gaza Strip on October 7.

Emily was returned in the second group of hostages released by the Islamist militants under a Qatari-brokered deal in exchange for Palestinians jailed in Israel.

Her father Thomas, an Irish immigrant to Israel, was originally told that Emily was among the more than 100 people killed at the kibbutz after she had spent the night at a friend’s house. 

Three weeks later, Hand’s world turned upside down once again when the Israeli military told him she might be alive.

He then set about campaigning for her release, pressing Irish President Michael Higgins and Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, among others, to help bring her home.

This is 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 we breathe a massive sigh of relief.  Our prayers have been answered.

“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,” Hand told the Daily Mirror.

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.

Emily was returned alongside 12-year-old Hila Rotem, whose mother remains in captivity, and in a statement, Emily’s family described the mix of feelings that have also been reported by other relatives of hostages.

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

“We are overjoyed to embrace Emily again, but at the same time, we remember Raya Rotem and all the hostages who have yet to return.”

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