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Girl held hostage by Hamas finally celebrates ninth birthday with family in touching footage

Girl held hostage by Hamas finally celebrates ninth birthday with family in touching footage

Touching footage shows the moment an Irish-Israeli girl who turned nine while being held hostage by Hamas finally celebrating her birthday with her family.

Following seven torturous weeks, Emily Hand was freed from captivity in Gaza on Saturday after she was kidnapped by the militants in the deadly attack on Kibbutz Be’eri on 7 October.

On her actual birthday on November 17, her family held a party without her at St Stephen’s Green in Dublin as part of their desperate campaign for her release.

Emily’s beloved pet dogs nuzzle the pair, as another family member softly strokes her hair (supplied)
Emily’s beloved pet dogs nuzzle the pair, as another family member softly strokes her hair (supplied)

Her tearful father, Thomas Hand, 63, who had initially feared his daughter was dead, said at the time: “She won’t even know it’s her birthday. She won’t know what day it is. Can you imagine the fear?”

In the wake of the family’s emotional reunion with Emily, Mr Hand said he planned to give his daughter “the best birthday party she never had”.

And on Sunday, a gentle celebration was laid on for Emily while she recuperated at the Safra children’s hospital in Tel Hashomer, Tel Aviv, surrounded by family.

Emily was finally reunited with her father Thomas over the weekend (Israel Army/AFP via Getty Images)
Emily was finally reunited with her father Thomas over the weekend (Israel Army/AFP via Getty Images)

In video shared with The Independent, a multi-coloured ‘Happy Birthday’ sign is seen strung along the wall of the nine-year-old’s hospital room. It is surrounded by decorations of white and pink balloons and wicker hearts, while cuddly toys are laid out on her bed.

Emily, wearing a red knitted jumper, is embraced by a family member who strokes her face as the little girl puts her arms around her. Emily’s beloved pet dogs nuzzle the pair, as another family member softly strokes her hair.

Video footage issued by the Israel Defence Forces has shown Emily running into her father’s arms at a location in Israel on Saturday after he had previously spoken about how he was looking forward to giving her a huge hug.

Emily, wearing a red knitted jumper, is embraced by a family member who strokes her face as the nine-year-old puts her arms around her (supplied)
Emily, wearing a red knitted jumper, is embraced by a family member who strokes her face as the nine-year-old puts her arms around her (supplied)

Mr Hand, originally from Dun Laoghaire in Dublin, last week made an emotional appeal for Emily’s release, saying the family was living through a “nightmare”, and getting her back was his “reason for living”.

After her release, Emily’s family released a statement saying they were “overjoyed” to be able to embrace her again and thanked the world for “unwavering support” in trying to secure her return.

“We can’t find the words to describe our emotions after 50 challenging and complicated days.”

They said that Emily has lost a lot of weight but is “generally doing better than we expected”.

Following seven torturous weeks, Emily Hand, nine, was freed from captivity in Gaza on Saturday after she was kidnapped by the militants in the deadly attack on Kibbutz Be’eri on 7 October (AP)
Following seven torturous weeks, Emily Hand, nine, was freed from captivity in Gaza on Saturday after she was kidnapped by the militants in the deadly attack on Kibbutz Be’eri on 7 October (AP)

On the day she was abducted, Emily had been having a sleepover with her friend Hila Rotem who was also freed – although Raya, Hila’s mother, remains in Gaza.

“At the same time, we remember Raya Rotem and all the hostages who have yet to return.” the family added. “We will persist in doing everything in our power to bring them back home.”

Emily’s father met Irish president Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tanaiste Micheal Martin during her captivity. Mr Varadkar described “a day of enormous joy and relief for Emily Hand and her family”.

The current four-day ceasefire was agreed to enable the release of at least 50 of the 240 hostages taken by Hamas into Gaza in exchange for 150 Palestinians – women and children – in Israeli prisons. On Sunday, Hamas freed 17 hostages, including 14 Israelis, and Israel released 39 Palestinian prisoners – the third such exchange under the truce.