‘Overjoyed’: nine-year-old hostage Emily Hand returns to family in Israel | Israel-Hamas war

todayNovember 26, 2023 5

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The family and friends of Emily Hand have spoken of their joy after Hamas released the nine-year-old Israeli-Irish girl from captivity in Gaza late on Saturday.

“Emily has come back to us,” her father, Thomas Hand, said after an emotional reunion at a hospital in Israel.

In a statement, Emily’s family said: “We can’t find the words to describe our emotions after 50 challenging and complicated days.”

Emily was initially feared dead after the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October, but was later counted among the hostages. She was one of a group of 13 Israelis and four Thai nationals who were released late on Saturday night as part of a deal that saw Israel free 39 Palestinian prisoners. In the West Bank, cheering crowds greeted Palestinian prisoners as they walked free from a jail.

Another group of hostages was handed over on Sunday, and more Palestinian prisoners are expected to be released in the coming hours.

Emily was at a sleepover in a friend’s house in the Be’eri kibbutz when she was abducted.

Hila Rotem Shoshani reunites with her uncle. Photograph: AP

Her friend Hila, 13, was also released on Saturday but Hila’s mother, Raya Rotem, 54, is still being held captive. “We are overjoyed to embrace Emily again, but at the same time, we remember Raya Rotem and all the hundreds of hostages yet to return,” Emily’s family added.

“You don’t know, you can’t imagine they will come. You just can’t imagine it, what they will do, if they will talk about it,” said 10-year-old Talia, a friend of Emily. “We have a lot of questions, everyone wants to ask them, what happened there, what they did to them, if they ate and drank.”

The Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, spoke of the end of a “cruel torture” for Emily’s family. “An innocent girl who was lost has now been found and returned, and our country breathes a massive sigh of relief,” he said.

Varadkar’s comments drew an angry response from Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, who wrote on social media: “Mr Prime Minister. It seems you have lost your moral compass and need a reality check! Emily Hand was not ‘lost’, she was kidnapped by a terror organisation worse than Isis that murdered her stepmother.”

Israel said it was summoning Ireland’s ambassador to the foreign ministry in Jerusalem for a “reprimand”.

Maya Regev.
Maya Regev. Photograph: AP

Also among the hostages freed late on Saturday was 21-year-old Maya Regev, kidnapped by Hamas fighters in their deadly raid on the Supernova music festival along with her 18-year-old brother, Itay.

She was hit by gunfire while on the phone with their father, and was seen crossing the border in crutches, and is expected to undergo a series of surgical operations, the Times of Israel has reported.

Her mother, Mirit Regev, said in a statement: “I am so excited and happy that Maya is on her way to us now. Nonetheless, my heart is split because my son Itay is still in Hamas captivity in Gaza.”

For residents of the Be’eri kibbutz, the Hands’ home, one of the communities worst hit by last month’s attack by Hamas, the release of some of the hostages was met with joy tinged with sadness.

Yahel and Adi Shoham.
Yahel and Adi Shoham. Photograph: Hostages and Missing Families Forum/Reuters

Among the others freed were six members of an extended family including a three-year-old girl.

Adi Shoham, 38, was freed with her son Naveh, eight, and her daughter Yahel, three. All three also hold German dual nationality through Adina’s father, Avshalom Haran, who was killed in the attack.

Her husband, Tal Shoham, 38, remains in captivity. Adi’s aunt Sharon Avigdori and her daughter Noam, 12, were also freed.

They were all at Be’eri kibbutz to visit Adi’s mother, Shoshan Haran, who was also released on Saturday.

Adi’s cousin Inbal Tzach said: “This is the saddest joy and the happiest sadness, but our family is home. This is an emotional evening for the families who received their loved ones tonight. We will continue the struggle until everyone comes home.”

Sixteen-year-old Noam Or and his 13-year-old sister, Alma, were also released. Their mother was killed in Be’eri kibbutz on 7 October and their father, Dror, remains in captivity. The children’s uncle Ahal Besorai told the Guardian they did not know that their mother had been killed.

“Unfortunately, they were not aware that my sister, their mum, was murdered,” he said. “Suddenly they come to see their loved ones for the first time in 50 days and the first piece of news that they are confronted with is that their mum is no longer alive. I think it was very traumatic, there were a lot of tears, a lot of pain.”

The mother of a Thai hostage freed from Gaza on Saturday described how she felt as her son was among the four most recent Thai nationals confirmed as released.

“My granddaughter called me at 5am saying my son was among the hostages released and I didn’t really believe it,” Thongkoon Onkaew told Reuters by phone on Sunday. “Then she sent me the photo and I was like, ‘That’s my son! My son!’”

Three Israeli hostages, who were released from Hamas captivity on Friday, were discharged from hospital on Sunday.

A cousin of Keren Munder, who was released on Friday along with her son Ohad and mother, Ruth, told Israel’s Channel 12 that the three had been held together throughout their captivity. Merav Mor Raviv said she had been told that her family members’ captors were armed with their faces visible, and that they repeatedly made a beheading gesture with their hands. Ruthy Munder’s husband was kidnapped at the same time but not held alongside the others. It is thought he is still in captivity.

Among the latest group of Palestinians released was 38-year-old Israa Jaabis, sentenced to 11 years in jail for detonating a gas cylinder at a checkpoint in 2015.

Jaabis, wearing a wreath of yellow flowers, hugged relatives in her home on her return. “Thank God. My pain is visible, no need to speak about it,” she said, her face partially disfigured by burns. “I also have pain on an emotional level and I am missing my relatives. But this is the tax a prisoner pays.”

Young prisoners embraced relatives and were carried on their shoulders after walking free from the Ofer prison in the West Bank into a crowd waving the green flags of Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam brigades.

One released prisoner, Wael Bilal Mashy, said: “May God protect the resistance in Gaza, mercy for our martyrs, and healing for the wounded. Long live the resistance and long live all those who supported it.”

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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