Taoiseach hopes that Emily Hand will be among first hostages released

Emily Hand
Emily Hand Emily Hand

Ireland’s premier has expressed hope that Irish-Israeli girl Emily Hand will be included in the first group of hostages released in Gaza.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s comments came as Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs cautioned that there had been no official confirmation that the nine-year-old would be released as part of the deal for a four-day pause in fighting in the region.

Emily, whose father Tom is originally from Co Dublin, is believed to be being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza.

Addressing the Dail on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar also questioned whether Israel “listens to anyone anymore” as he expressed doubt whether it would heed international calls to stop the killing of civilians in Gaza after the four-day pause was over.

Israel-Hamas conflict
Israel-Hamas conflict Thomas Hand has been campaigning for his daughter Emily’s release (Norma Burke/PA)

“The ceasefire will facilitate the release of 50 hostages being held by Palestinians including, we hope, Emily Hand, and will also facilitate the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, in some cases teenage boys imprisoned for doing little more than throwing stones at armed soldiers,” he said.

“In relation to the four-day ceasefire, that will allow humanitarian aid to get into Gaza – food, fuel, medicines, water, all of the basic needs for human life.

“And Ireland, individually and also as part of the UN and the EU, will do anything we can to make sure that that happens and happens well.

“And it is our view that the ceasefire should not just last for four days, that it should be extended to allow space for there to be a peace initiative, which can bring a permanent end to violence in the region, resulting in a two state solution – Israel and Palestine as secure and viable states living side by side.”

He added: “Sadly, the Israeli government doesn’t listen to us. I’m not sure the Israeli government listens to anyone anymore. They used to listen to the Americans. I’m not even sure if that’s the case anymore. They are, as President Biden said, at risk of being blinded by rage. And it’s the sad reality that I’m not actually sure that any action or statement by us or the European Union or the US will change the current course of action that they are on.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t do the right thing. And we have increased our humanitarian aid to Gaza and Palestine. We have provided additional funding to the International Criminal Court so they can fund the investigation into war crimes that may have been committed in the Palestinian territories and will continue to press at UN level and EU level.”

Providing an update on the status of Emily, a Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said: “The Department of Foreign Affairs welcomes the announced agreement between Israel and Hamas for a truce and the release of some of the hostages held in Gaza.

“Our focus in particular is on the case of nine-year old Irish citizen Emily Hand.

“We have worked consistently for her release over recent weeks, including through extensive contacts with regional partners. There is no official confirmation at this time of those scheduled to be released under this agreement.

“The department welcomes the truce agreed as part of the hostage deal. A break in hostilities is essential to allow for significant increased humanitarian access. Gaza’s civilian population urgently need fuel, food, water, and medical supplies, on a sustained basis and at scale.”

Mr Varadkar fielded questions on the Israel-Hamas conflict during Leaders’ Questions in the Dail.

Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns reiterated her call for Mr Varadkar to back a suspension of Israel’s trade deal with the EU.

Social Democrats leadership
Social Democrats leadership Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns urged the Government to formally recognise Palestine as a state (Brian Lawless/PA)

“Taoiseach, there must be consequences if Israel is determined to continue this barbarism,” she said.

Mr Varadkar sought legal advice after Ms Cairns insisted a human rights clause in the EU-Israel trade deal had been breached – thus providing grounds for the deal to be suspended.

The Taoiseach said he had asked for the legal advice to be prepared but had not yet received it.

But he made clear his view that sanctions only worked if taken on a multilateral basis.

Ms Cairns also called on the Government to use November 29 – International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People – to formally recognise Palestine as a state.

Mr Varadkar said Ireland recognised Palestine on a de facto basis but would only do so officially when it was formally established as a secure state as part of a two state solution peace deal.