Ireland ‘pushing hard’ to ensure Emily Hand is among first hostages released by Hamas

The Government is pushing and using all of its contacts and abilities to ensure that if hostages are released by Hamas over the coming days, that nine-year-old Emily Hand will be among those to be let go, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar said the Irish-Israeli girl’s release was a “major priority” for the Government and it was doing “everything” it could to ensure that children are the first hostages to be released.

Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, the Taoiseach repeated that European countries cannot continue to aid Palestine and trade with Israel in “the way we have done in the past”. “That’s going to have to change in some way,” he said.

The Fine Gael leader said the Government was calling for a ceasefire and understood there were some discussions and talks under way between intermediaries involving the release of hostages by Hamas.

He said he spoke with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar on Monday and would later meet the ambassadors of some Arab and Muslim countries while the Tánaiste had been involved in contacts as well.

“We are particularly pursuing the case of Emily Hand, a young Irish-Israeli girl who we believe is being held hostage in Gaza by Hamas, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that if there is the release of some hostages by Hamas in the coming days, that children are first among those to be released,” he said.

“We’re very strongly of the view that hostages should never be taken by anyone in any conflict anywhere ever, but particularly the taking of children as hostages is particularly wrong.

“We’re pushing and using all our contacts and all our abilities to ensure that if there is a hostage released in the coming days, that Emily Hand is among one of those to be released and that’s a major priority for us now as a Government.”

Mr Varadkar was responding to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald during Leaders’ Questions, who said 5,500 children had now been killed in “Israel’s brutal bombardment of Gaza”.

“13,500 Gazans have been slaughtered, nearly 6,000 are missing, entire Palestinian families wiped out, entire neighbourhoods and communities wiped from the face of the earth, generations erased,” she said.

“Forty-five days of horror have rained down on the Palestinian people in a merciless crescendo of 75 years of oppression, occupation and apartheid. Israel’s relentless onslaught means in Gaza, nowhere is safe. Homes, hospitals and schools have been obliterated, places of worship destroyed, refugee camps bombed, not even babies are safe. Newborn babies have died because incubators stopped working.”

Ms McDonald said the Government had to hold Israel to account and refer it to the International Criminal Court, as the South African Government had. She said the Spanish Government and the Norwegian parliament were moving to formally recognise the Palestinian state and that “Ireland must do the same”. The Dublin Central TD added that the Belgian government had called for sanctions against Israel and Ireland should do likewise.

The Taoiseach said he was strongly of the view that sanctions could only happen on a multilateral basis while the ICC was already conducting an investigation.

“The whole point of imposing sanctions, and we have imposed sanctions on many countries for different reasons, is that they do more harm to the country that’s being sanctioned than the country imposing the sanctions and that’s why they only work when they’re done on a multilateral basis,” he said.

“We’re nowhere near that point yet at a European level or an international level. I’ve said and I’ll say it again, at European meetings, we can’t continue to aid Palestine and trade with Israel in the way we have done in the past, that’s going to have to change in some way.”

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