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Row erupts over Irish PM's remarks after 9-year-old girl held hostage by Hamas freed
Tel Aviv: Nine-year-old girl Emily Hand was among the 17 hostages released by Hamas as part of a hostage deal with Israel on Saturday (local time).
On her release, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Sunday expressed gratitude saying that their "prayers have been answered".
Notably, after the October 7 attacks, it was speculated that Emily was among those killed by Hamas. She was at a sleepover at a friend's house on the Kibbutz Be'eri when she was abducted.
"This is a day of enormous joy and relief for Emily Hand and her family. An innocent child who was lost has now been found and returned, and we breathe a massive sigh of relief. Our prayers have been answered," Varadkar posted on X (formerly Twitter).
However, his remarks -- particularly the use of the words 'lost' and 'found' -- have led to an uproar on social media.
The Israeli government spokesperson, Eylon Levy slammed Varadkar over his remarks and said that Emily was "brutally abducted" and she wasn't released by any prayers but by "Israel military's pressure".
"Emily Hand wasn't "lost". She was brutally abducted by the death squads that massacred her neighbours. She wasn't "found". Hamas knew where she was all along and cynically held her as a hostage. And Hamas didn't answer your prayers. It answered Israel's military pressure," Levy posted on X.
He added, "Without Israel's military pressure on Hamas, which Ireland shamefully called "something approaching revenge," little Emily Hand would still be a hostage of Hamas. It's not that Hamas "was blind, but now it sees" (if the above statement is an allusion to Amazing Grace)".
Levin also took a jibe at Waradkar over the "extent of Ireland's contribution".
"This is how you describe a little girl who went missing during a stroll in a forest and then gets discovered by a friendly hiker. Not a girl brutally abducted by death squads that brutally massacred her neighbours. But this explains the extent of Ireland's contribution: prayers," the spokesperson said in a subsequent post.
Earlier on Saturday, the second batch of hostages -- consisting of 13 Israelis and 4 Thai nationals -- were released by Hamas and handed over to Egypt, Times of Israel reported.
Earlier, Hamas announced that it had handed over 20 hostages, including 13 Israelis and seven foreigners, to the Red Cross, Times of Israel reported.
According to the swap deal between Israel and Hamas -- brokered by the US and Qatar -- Hamas will release the hostages and Israel will also release Palestinian prisoners. On Friday, Israel freed 39 Palestinian prisoners.
The first group of 24 hostages were handed over to the staff of the International Committee for Red Cross as part of the hostage deal between Israel and Hamas on Friday.
Notably, around 240 people were abducted by Hamas during the brutal assault on Israel on October 7.