Irish-Israeli schoolgirl among hostages freed in return for Palestinian prisoners in second swap

World

An Irish-Israeli schoolgirl is among 17 hostages freed by Hamas in return for dozens of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, in the second swap under a truce deal.

Emily Hand, from Kibbutz Be’eri, celebrated her ninth birthday in captivity on Friday.

The girl, who was one of 13 Israelis freed on Saturday, was among 240 hostages abducted 50 days ago during the 7 October attack on Israel.

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Emily was sleeping at her best friend’s house when Hamas gunmen broke in, before losing contact with her family.

Relatives were initially told her body had been found – but the IDF later informed them of evidence indicating that she was among the hostages held in Gaza.

Emily’s father, Thomas, originally from Dun Laoghaire in Dublin, last week pleaded for her release, saying getting Emily back was his “reason for living”.

Her family held a birthday party for her in the Irish capital as they campaigned for her freedom.

Emily Hand. Pic supplied by family via Cordelia  Lynch. Emily was feared dead in an attack but is now believed to be a Hamas hostage
Image:
Emily celebrated her ninth birthday in captivity

Mr Hand met Irish leaders including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who described her release as “a day of enormous joy and relief for Emily and her family”.

“A little girl was snatched from her home and held captive for almost seven weeks,” Mr Varadkar said.

“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.”

Emily Hand. Pic supplied by family via Cordelia  Lynch. Emily was feared dead in an attack but is now believed to be a Hamas hostage
Image:
Emily was initially feared dead before the IDF informed her family that she was among the Hamas hostages

Mr Varadkar hailed Emily’s father for his “courage and determination” to ensure she would be freed.

“Irish people everywhere share in the relief of Emily’s family,” he added.

“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.

“Their fate is unknown, but we hope that, like Emily, they will be allowed to return to their homes and their families.”

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Irish Tanaiste, Micheal Martin, said the Irish people have been “deeply touched” by Emily’s story, and reiterated his call that “all hostages in Gaza should be released immediately and unconditionally”.

The latest exchange comes on the second day of a temporary ceasefire that has allowed humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip and given civilians their first respite after seven weeks of war.

On the first day of the four-day ceasefire, Hamas released 24 of the about 240 hostages, while Israel freed 39 Palestinians from prison.

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Israeli boy reunited with family

Those freed in Gaza were 13 Israelis, 10 Thais and a Filipino.

Under the temporary truce agreement, which was mediated by Qatar, the militant group will release one Israeli hostage for every three prisoners freed.

During the four days of the ceasefire, Hamas is due to release at least 50 Israeli hostages, and Israel will free 150 Palestinian prisoners.

Israel has said the truce can be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages released – a move backed by US President Joe Biden.

Meanwhile, a Qatari delegation arrived in Israel on Saturday to co-ordinate with parties on the ground and “ensure the deal continues to move smoothly”, according to a diplomat.

Read more:
Israeli boy reunited with family after more than six weeks in Hamas captivity
Could truce see Hamas gain initiative?
Why there’s huge controversy over hostage deal

The start of the truce on Friday morning brought the first moment of peace for 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza , which has been under relentless Israeli bombardment in the wake of last month’s insurgent massacre launched from the territory.

Rocket fire by Hamas into Israel has also ceased.

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Jubilation in West Bank as prisoners freed

The United Nations said the pause enabled it to scale up the delivery of food, water and medicine to Gaza in the face of a humanitarian crisis in the previously besieged enclave.

Israel launched its onslaught on Gaza after insurgents stormed across the border fence on 7 October – killing 1,200 people and seizing about 240 hostages.

Israel’s retaliation against the Hamas-ruled territory has killed some 14,000 Gazans, around 40% of them children, according to Palestinian health authorities.

It is the bloodiest episode in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel’s stated aim is to remove Hamas once and for all.

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