Rescued hostage Emily Hand’s father thanks public for support
By Rebecca Black, PA
The father of a young Irish-Israeli girl released by Hamas has said she is doing “better than expected”, and has thanked the public for their support.
Emily Hand was among a number of people to be freed by militants at the weekend in a deal which also saw Palestinians held in Israel released.
Video footage issued by the Israel Defence Forces has shown her running into her father Thomas’s arms at a location in Israel after 50 days in captivity in Gaza.
She had been abducted while at a sleepover in Kibbutz Be’eri during the Hamas attack on October 7th, along with her friend, who has also been released.
Thomas Hand, originally from Dún Laoghaire in Dublin, released a video later to thank all those who have supported his family.
“Yesterday we finally got Emily back from the hands of the Gazan terrorists,” he said.
“She has lost a lot of weight, from her face and body, but generally doing better than we expected.
“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’s been great, we can’t do it without you.”
In a statement on Saturday Mr Hand expressed his delight at her release.
“Emily has come back to us,” he said. “We are overjoyed to embrace Emily again.
“We appreciate the unwavering support. We want to express our gratitude to everyone who helped and supported us during the last 50 days until Emily’s return.”
Mr Hand had previously spoken about how he was looking forward to giving her a huge hug.
He told the Daily Mirror newspaper that Emily would also be greeted by her beloved dog, Johnsie, and cuddly toys, and they are planning to give the girl, who spent her ninth birthday in captivity, “the best birthday party she never had”.
President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Micheál Martin, who all met Mr Hand as he campaigned for his daughter’s release, welcomed the news.
Mr Higgins described the ordeal as “a horrific time for all of her family”.
In a statement he said: “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.
“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, 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.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the country had breathed “a massive sigh of relief”.
“Our prayers have been answered,” 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.”
Mr Varadkar said that while Emily has been returned to her family, it must not 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.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, said he was delighted that Emily, “a bright and beautiful young girl”, had been released.
“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.
He went on: “I had the opportunity to meet Tom before travelling to the region, and 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.
“I want to acknowledge the role played by the US, Qatar, Egypt and others that have been involved in securing the release of the hostages.
“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.”