Israeli authorities believe an Irish child, thought to have been killed by Hamas, has been kidnapped by the organisation instead.
Eight-year-old Emily Hand is the daughter of Dubliner Tom Hand, who emigrated to Israel several decades ago.
On October 7th, Emily had been staying on a Kibbutz, close to the border with Gaza, which was raided by Hamas.
“The night before the attack, Emily was not staying with her father, she was on a sleepover at a friend’s house in Kibbutz Be'eri,” journalist Hannah McCarthy told Newstalk Breakfast.
“I visited Kibbutz Be'eri when I got into Israel and there’s a whole section of that kibbutz that has been completely destroyed.
“Hamas came armed with grenades and rocket launchers and several of the houses were set on fire.”
The house where Emily had been staying was badly burnt and several bodies were discovered on the premises.
Initially, the IDF concluded Emily was among the casualties but that assessment has since been re-evaluated.
“I have talked to people who were involved in identifying the victims and they said in particular identifying child victims has been a very complicated process,” Ms McCarthy said.
“Particularly where victims have been burnt, it’s been very hard.”
The Hand family has now been told there is a “high possibility” that Emily is among roughly 240 kidnapped people being held in Gaza.
“I know at least one other embassy that was informed that someone was dead, when in fact they turned out to be alive,” Ms McCarthy said.
“There was this document also circulated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a while that said there was one Irish citizen killed and one Irish citizen missing, the issue was that this document was also viewed as having inaccuracies at several points.
“So, it was hard to know if it could be relied on or not.”
In an interview recorded when he thought his daughter was dead, Mr Hand said he had feared she would end up in Gaza.
“If you know anything about what they do to people in Gaza, that is worse than death,” he said.
“The way they treat you, they’d have no food, they’d have no water.
“She’d be in a dark room filled with Christ knows how many people and terrified every minute, hour, day and possibly for years to come.”
"They just said, we found Emily. She's dead. I went, 'Yes!' and smiled, because that is the best news of the possibilities I knew. She was either dead or in Gaza. And if you know anything about what they do to people in Gaza, that is worse than death."
Emily was 8.
— Eylon Levy (@EylonALevy) October 12, 2023
On October 20th, two US citizens, a mother and a daughter, were released and a further two women, both elderly, were freed on October 24th.
Among the remaining hostages, there are thought to be at least 20 children and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out a ceasefire until all of them are freed.
Since October 7th, some 1,400 Israelis have been killed by Hamas, while Israeli air strikes on Gaza have killed 9,700 people, according to local officials.
Main image: Emily Hand.