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The father of a nine-year-old Irish-Israeli girl who was kidnapped during Hamas’ bloody attack has told of his scepticism over a deal to release the hostages.
Thomas Hand initially thought his daughter Emily, who had been attending a sleepover at a friend’s house, had been killed in the militants’ 7 October massacre but was later told she had been kidnapped from Kibbutz Be’eri and taken to Gaza.
He celebrated Emily’s ninth birthday without her on Friday, dashing hopes that the “bubbly little innocent child” whose passion is music would have been safely returned to her family by then.
Asked at a press conference at the Israeli embassy in London on Monday about reports that officials suggest a deal to release hostages is edging closer, Mr Hand expressed his doubts as he replied: “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Israel’s ambassador to the US has told ABC’s This Week of his hope that a significant number of captives could be freed “in the coming days”, while White House deputy national security adviser Jon Finer echoed these positive sentiments when speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press programme on Sunday.
The Israeli embassy said it believed 240 hostages are being held in Gaza, including at least 30 children, among whom is young Emily.
Mr Hand, originally from Dun Laoghaire in Dublin, told reporters of his horror at the thought of “the sheer terror and panic of a nine-year-old girl down in those dark tunnels never seeing the light of day”, referring to the extensive underground network that Hamas has built under Gaza to use for its operations. He imagined her daily desperate pleas of “Where’s my daddy, why didn’t he come to save me?”
He even said his belief that Emily was dead was more bearable in that it allowed him to begin grieving, and that when he found out she was in fact being held hostage he was “thrown back into a nightmare”, picturing her suffering.
Speaking through tears, Mr Hand, who was wearing a T-shirt with a “Bring them home now” message on it, said that getting his missing daughter back was his “reason for living and getting up in the morning every day”.
He said: “I pray I get Emily back.
“I don’t know what condition she’s going to be in, but she’s going to be very broken mentally and physically and we’ll have to fix that. It’s going to take a long time to fix that. That’s what we’ve got to do and we will do it no matter how long it takes.”
Mr Hand, who himself was trapped in a safe room in the kibbutz for almost 20 hours on the day of Hamas’ attack, described the taking of hostages as “pure terrorism, pure evil” and called Hamas “bloody monsters”.
He said: “Help us to get her back. Bring them back home. It’s all we want.
“Forget all the politics - this is totally a humanitarian issue, it’s nothing to with politics. They’re children, they’re civilians.”
Orit Meir, another speaker at the press conference, broke down in tears as she told of her son’s last words to her before he was kidnapped by Hamas at the Nova music festival on 7 October.
Almog Meir Jan, 21, phoned his mother and told her, “Mum, I love you.”
Since then, Ms Meir said her life has been a “nightmare”. She is unable to even sleep or eat, with all her energy channeled into “working to bring my boy back home”, she said.
She pleaded through tears: “Help us to bring them back home now. I want my son with me now.”
Iris Haim told reporters her son, Yotam, had been kidnapped from Kfar Aza on 7 October as he prepared to play at a festival in Tel Aviv.
Ms Haim, originally from Haifa, said her 28-year-old son found himself “in a hell of guns, shooting and firing” during the Hamas attack on Israel.
She added that she was “really worried” about Yotam, a drummer for heavy metal band Persephore, as he has a medical condition that requires monthly medication.
“We are really worried and as a mother I cannot explain what I feel – my son is not with me. He didn’t go on a trip to London – he’s captured somewhere.”
Ms Haim said she thought hostages would be “freed by steps” and understood her son was unlikely to be one of the first to be released, but added: “I have a strong belief that he will come back anyway.”