ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Irish PM panned for saying freed hostage child Emily Hand ‘found’ after she was ‘lost’

FM Eli Cohen summons ambassador and accuses Leo Varadkar of ‘losing his moral compass’; Minister Gantz: ‘Emily was never “lost” – she was brutally kidnapped and held hostage’

Leo Varadkar Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland addresses the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 22, 2023. (Craig Ruttle/AP)
Leo Varadkar Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland addresses the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 22, 2023. (Craig Ruttle/AP)

In a tweet that was quickly lambasted, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar welcomed the release Saturday of Israeli-Irish hostage Emily Hand, saying “an innocent child who was lost has now been found.”

The tweet from Varadkar did not mention that the 9-year-old Hand had been held hostage for 50 days in Gaza by Hamas terrorists after she was kidnapped from a sleepover with her friend on October 7 during the terror group’s devastating attack on Israel.

Hand was released along with 12 other Israelis Saturday in the second stage of a 4-part exchange deal with Hamas that included a lull in the fighting that erupted following the attack as Israel vowed to topple the terror group that rules Gaza.

“This is a day of enormous joy and relief for Emily Hand and her family,” Varadkar’s official account tweeted on X, formerly Twitter. “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.”

A more formal statement from Varadkar described the circumstances of her abduction and captivity.

Still, he drew flak from Israeli officials and Jewish groups over the tweet’s wording.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said he had ordered his staff to call in Ireland’s ambassador for a reprimand. In a post on X directed at Varadkar earlier on Sunday, Cohen wrote: “It seems you have lost your moral compass and need a reality check!”

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz panned the remarks, saying in a post on X that “Emily was never ‘Lost’ – she was brutally kidnapped and held hostage by terrorist Hamas.”

President Isaac Herzog said, in a press conference alongside visiting German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, that the statement was “unacceptable.”

He added: “Emily was not lost. Emily was not out for a walk and lost her way. Emily was kidnapped at gunpoint by monstrous and despicable murderers… [she] was held captive without connection with her family, with the world or even with the Red Cross.

“Leaders of countries, should all take responsibility and tell the truth,” he continued, adding that it was “shameful” that certain “leaders of the member states of the European Union” were careful to not mention the words “Israel, kidnapping, terrorists or Hamas.”

President Isaac Herzog speaks at a press conference alongside German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (not pictured) at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on November 26, 2023. (Yonatan SIndel/Flash90)

Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy also tweeted a response assailing Varadkar and asserting that his remarks were representative of Ireland’s passivity on the entire hostage situation.

“This is how you describe a little girl who went missing during a stroll in a forest, then gets discovered by a friendly hiker,” Levy wrote. “Not a girl brutally abducted by death squads that brutally massacred her neighbors.”

“But this explains the extent of Ireland’s contribution: prayers,” he added.

Hand was abducted along with around 240 other people of all ages when thousands of terrorists crossed the border from the Gaza Strip and killed over 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians slaughtered in their homes and at a music festival.

Israel has responded with a military campaign aimed at destroying Hamas and removing the terror group from power in the Gaza Strip, and securing the release of the hostages.

An X account called Irish Jewish Voice, which has over 18,000 followers, also slammed Varadkar’s tweet, writing, “Emily Hand was not ‘lost’ or mislaid. This is NOT an Oscar Wilde play.”

“Emily was cruelly abducted by Hamas terrorists. Israeli pressure brought her home,” the post continued.

Emily Hand (right) reunites with her father, Tom Hand, in the early hours of November 26, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

North West Friends of Israel, which describes itself as a grassroots movement in the northwest of the United Kingdom supporting Israel, tweeted, “Emily Hand was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists who murdered many of her friends & neighbours.”

“She was released NOT because of your prayers but due to the military pressure IDF dealt to Hamas – the same pressure you dislike so much,” it said.

Within hours of Varadkar’s post, the X platform included a notification that “Readers added context they thought people might want to know.”

“Emily Hand was not ‘lost,’ she was ‘kidnapped,’ taken as hostage by Hamas. Kidnapping is against the law, being lost is not,” the readers’ addition read.

Varadkar also separately issued a longer statement that did state the circumstances of her abduction.

“A little girl was snatched from her home and held captive for almost seven weeks,” Varadkar said in the statement, which also noted that Hand had spent her ninth birthday “as a hostage.”

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

A Times Square billboard displays a poster of Hamas hostage Emily Hand, Nov. 17, 2023, in New York (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin said in a statement that 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 Irish officials had “engaged internationally, through political, diplomatic and security channels, in a bid to secure Emily’s safe return.”

Martin continued, “I reiterate my call that all hostages in Gaza should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

Irish President Michael D. Higgins said that Emily’s release ended “a horrific time for all of her family.”

He called for “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.”

Mary Lou McDonald, president of the Sinn Fein party, also welcomed Emily’s release from captivity.

“The trauma and heartbreak that little Emily and her family have been subjected to over the last number of weeks is unimaginable,” she said in a statement. “I reiterate my call that all hostages be released urgently and for an immediate full ceasefire to be in place.”

Thomas Hand, father of Emily Hand, an Israeli-Irish girl held hostage by Palestinian terror group Hamas in Gaza, attends a demonstration to protest against antisemitism and to call for the release of the hostages, outside Downing Street on November 19, 2023. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

Emily’s father, Thomas, is originally from Dun Laoghaire in Dublin. During his international awareness campaign for the release of his daughter, he met with Varadkar, Martin, and Higgins in Dublin.

The Hand family said statement following her release that “Emily has come back to us.”

“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 all the hostages who have yet to return.”

“We will persist in doing everything in our power to bring them back home,” the statement said.

Emily Hand was initially thought to have been among those killed in the attack on Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7. Her family was informed earlier this month that she was believed to be alive and among those held hostage in Gaza. Emily was at a sleepover at a friend’s house on the kibbutz on the night of October 6-7.

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