Nine-year-old returns from Hamas captivity after 50 days in Hamas captivity. Photo Courtesy: Michael Dickson X page
Nine-year-old Emily Hand, who was initially thought to have been killed in the October 7 attack on Israel, returned to her family after being held hostage by the Hamas militants for 50 days in Gaza, Reuters reported.
She was released along with 12 other Israeli and four Thai nationals as part of a prisoner swap agreement between Israel and the Palestine-backed fighter group.
Her release came a day after she spent her ninth birthday in captivity amid a four-day ceasefire. The prisoner exchange agreement faced a momentary threat of collapsing due to a disagreement over aid supplies, which was resolved after the intervention of the two countries.
It was a moment of relief and joy when Emily reunited with her family, who had initially thought she had been killed in the devastating assault by Hamas gunmen in southern Israel on October 7.
She was part of the second group of hostages released through a deal brokered by Qatar between the Islamist movement and Israel.
Among the 13 Israelis freed, six are women, and seven are children and teenagers, according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office.
In a photograph released with fellow hostage Hila Rotem, whose mother is still captive in Gaza, she seemed to be in good health.
Emily is the daughter of an Irish immigrant to Israel. She lost her mother to cancer at the age of 2. Her family, like others with hostages, described a tumultuous blend of emotions.
“We can’t find the words to describe our emotions after 50 challenging and complicated days,” her family said in a statement, according to Reuters. “We are overjoyed to embrace Emily again, but at the same time, we remember Raya Rotem and all the hostages who have yet to return.”
Kibbutz, Be'eri, where Emily resided, is one of the worst hit by the violence inflicted by Hamas. It is situated just a few kilometers from the breached security fence with Gaza, the report said.
The release of some hostages abducted on October 7 brought a sense of relief to the community albeit with a tempering of sadness.
In the Dead Sea resort, where most kibbutz residents have been evacuated, cheers and applause filled the air as the community witnessed the hostages being brought back to Israel.
“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,” 10-year-old Talia, a friend of Emily Hand, was quoted as saying by Reuters.
“We have a lot of questions; everyone wants to ask them… What happened there, what they did to them, if they ate and drank,” she said, the report added.
This community has now become one of the most poignant symbols of the suffering inflicted by the attack.
The current ceasefire is the first since Hamas terrorists carried out a massive surprise rocket attack in southern Israel on October 7, resulting in 1,200 casualties and the capture of around 240 people.
After the sudden attack, Israel vowed to wipe out the Hamas militants governing Gaza, launching airstrikes and a ground offensive in the north.
As of Saturday, Palestinian health authorities reported that around 14,800 people, 40% of them children, have been killed.
The swap on Saturday follows another exchange on Friday, where Hamas released 13 Israeli hostages, including children and the elderly, in exchange for 39 Palestinian women and youth released from Israeli prisons.
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