The father of a young girl who was held hostage by Hamas for 50 days has vowed to do ‘whatever it takes’ to help his daughter recover after revealing how she spent her ninth birthday running from missile strikes in Gaza.
Emily Hand, an Irish-Israeli citizen, was kidnapped and presumed dead when Hamas terrorists invaded Israel on October 7, slaughtering 1,200 and taking 240 more captive.
Her father Tom Hand faced an unbearable two-day wait for news after gunmen stormed the kibbutz where she was staying for a sleepover at her friend’s home.
When he was incorrectly told her body had been found, he welcomed the news because he said it was better than her being taken hostage during the barbaric attack on the Be’eri Kibbutz.
But little Emily survived and was one 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 return.
Around 60 Israelis have now been freed under the terms of an initial four-day ceasefire, which was extended to six days, including a fifth group of hostages who were released by Hamas last night.
Israeli negotiators are offering Hamas three more days of ceasefire until Sunday morning in exchange for the release of all remaining women and children they are holding captive, sources close to talks in Qatar have told The Times.
Four days after his daughter’s emotional release, Mr Hand told The Sun: ‘She was a happy noisy kid, now she whispers. She’s been terrorised by terrorists in hell but as her dad it’s my job to make it better and I will.’
Emily Hand (pictured after her release with father Tom Hand), an Irish-Israeli citizen, was kidnapped and presumed dead when Hamas terrorists invaded Israel on October 7
Emily (pictured) survived and 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 return
This is the touching moment that Emily was reunited with her father after 50 days in captivity
Mr Hand revealed that his daughter lost more than half a stone while being held captive.
The first thing she asked for after her release was her phone so that she could watch a video of her favourite pop star Beyonce.
Mr Hand has vowed to do ‘whatever it takes to get Emily back to where she was’.
Emotional footage was shared over the weekend of the moment that Emily was reunited with her father and big sister.
Mr Hand said that she ran to him and hugged her in a state of shock because she thought that he had been kidnapped as well.
His ex-wife Narkis, 52, was murdered on October 7 when 400 Hamas terrorists rampaged through the Be’eri kibbutz near Gaza.
Mr Hand said he, his son and daughter were grieving for Emily as well as Narkis because they presumed the little girl was dead.
He doubled down on believing that she was better off dead than being kidnapped by Hamas but added that he was grateful she was alive.
Emily is led to safety by gun-toting Hamas terrorists after being moved around from safe house to safe house
This is the moment Emily Hand is reunited with her big sister, Natali. She looked nervous and traumatised as she was handed back
Emily (pictured), who has returned pale and thin, is still in a state of shock and is being looked after by specialists in a hospital near Tel Aviv
Since her release Emily has told her father little about the conditions in captivity in Gaza, which she now refers to as ‘the box’, but said that ‘nobody hit’ her.
Mr Hand revealed that Emily was not – as believed – kept in the horrifying Hamas tunnels.
She was instead moved from safe house to safe house at the height of Israel’s retaliotary strikes on Gaza.
Mr Hand explained: ‘She must have been absolutely terrified – an eight-year-old girl being led by strangers from one blown-up shell of a house to the next in the middle of a war zone.’
He said she was horrified by the thought of her spending her ninth birthday in the tunnels but admitted it was actually much worse running through war-torn Gaza.
Mr Hand said that his daughter used to be a happy noisy child but now whispers, which he believes is because she was banned from speaking loudly by the terrorists in case their position was given up.
Emily, who has returned pale and thin, is still in a state of shock and is being looked after by specialists in a hospital near Tel Aviv.
When she was released, her overjoyed family said: ‘Emily has come back to us. We can’t find the words to describe our emotions after 50 challenging and complicated days.’
Roughly 240 hostages were captured by Hamas, with just over 160 thought to still be in captivity following a series of exchanges with Palestinian prisoners.
Emily was snatched in her pyjamas during Hamas’ invasion of Israel on October 7, in which some 240 captives were taken back into Gaza. She had her ninth birthday while in captivity
In the latest swap since the ceasefire began Friday, Israel said 10 of its citizens and two Thai nationals were freed by Hamas and had been returned to Israel on Tuesday. Soon after, Israel released 30 Palestinian prisoners. The truce is due to end after one more exchange Wednesday night.
For the first time, Israel and Hamas blamed each other for an exchange of fire between troops and militants in northern Gaza. There was no immediate indication it would endanger the truce, which has enabled humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza.
The latest group of Israeli hostages freed from Gaza – nine women and a 17-year-old – was flown to hospitals in Israel, the Israeli military said. The hostages were handed over on a street crowded with cheering people.
The 17-year-old girl could be seen walking alongside Hamas militants to a waiting Red Cross Jeep with her small, white-haired dog named Bella.
Tuesday’s hostage release brought to 60 the number of Israelis freed during the truce. An additional 21 hostages – 19 Thais, one Filipino and one Russian-Israeli – have been released in separate negotiations since the truce began.
Before the truce, Hamas released four Israeli hostages, and the Israeli army rescued one. Two other hostages were found dead in Gaza.
The latest swap brought to 180 the number of Palestinian women and teenagers freed from Israeli prisons.
A fifth group of hostages were released on Tuesday. Pictured: A teenage hostage clutches a dog as she is flanked by Hamas gunmen during her release
Hamas fighters accompany newly released hostages before handing them over to the Red Cross in Rafah
Most have been teenagers accused of throwing stones and firebombs during confrontations with Israeli forces.
Several released women were convicted by Israeli military courts of attempting to carry out deadly attacks. The prisoners are widely seen by Palestinians as heroes resisting occupation.
In the occupied West Bank, hundreds of Palestinians lined the streets of Ramallah to welcome the latest Palestinian prisoners freed by Israel.
A Red Cross bus carried the prisoners from Ofer prison – an Israeli military prison in the West Bank – into central Ramallah. Some were then carried through the crowds on the shoulders of Palestinians.
The freed hostages have mostly stayed out of the public eye, but details of their captivity have started to emerge.
In one of the first interviews with a freed hostage, 78-year-old Ruti Munder told Israel’s Channel 13 television that she was initially fed well in captivity but that conditions worsened as shortages took hold.
She said she was kept in a ‘suffocating’ room and slept on plastic chairs with a sheet for nearly 50 days.
Tuesday saw the first major exchange of fire between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters in northern Gaza since the cease-fire began. Each side blamed the other, but no further violence followed and the swap went ahead.