Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended a social media post about the release of Irish-Israeli hostage Emily Hand after it sparked a diplomatic backlash.
The Irish Ambassador to Israel was summoned to the foreign ministry in Jerusalem for a “reprimand” following strong reaction to Mr Varadkar’s use of the word “lost” in relation to the release of Emily Hand, who had been taken hostage by Hamas and held in Gaza.
The nine-year-old girl, released late Saturday night after 50 days in Hamas captivity in Gaza, is recuperating at the Safra Children’s Hospital in Tel Hashomer, Tel Aviv, surrounded by family.
Her father, Dublin-born Tom Hand, said she had lost a lot of weight but was “generally doing better than we expected”.
A tweet sent by Mr Varadkar, taken from his much longer statement on Saturday night, described it as “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 our country breathes a massive sigh of relief. Our prayers have been answered,” he tweeted.
But on Sunday, Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen condemned Mr Varadkar’s use of the word “lost” in relation to Emily.
“Mr Prime Minister, It seems you have lost your moral compass and need a reality check,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Emily Hand was not ‘lost’, she was kidnapped by a terror organisation worse than Isis that murdered her stepmother. Emily and more than 30 other Israeli children were taken hostage by Hamas, and you @LeoVaradkar are trying to legitimise and normalise terror. Shame on you!”
Irish Ambassador Sonya McGuinness will attend a meeting in the foreign ministry in Jerusalem on Monday afternoon where she will outline the Government’s position, Coalition sources said.
The Taoiseach, in remarks issued by a spokesman on Sunday afternoon in response to the criticism, said it was “really good news” that Emily had been released and was now at home with her family.
“I think the vast majority of people understand what I was saying, recalling the amazing joy and awe that occurs when a child comes home,” he said.
“I’ve always been consistent in my unequivocal condemnation of Hamas and hostage-taking. I call for all hostages to be released without any conditions and I have always done so. And the Irish Government has worked very hard over the past few weeks with Egypt, with Qatar, with the Red Cross and also with Israel to secure Emily’s release.
Speaking to RTÉ on Sunday, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said he was “genuinely surprised” at the Israeli government’s reaction to Mr Varadkar’s tweet, and did not think anything beyond a reflection of happiness at Emily Hand’s release should be read into it.
The third batch of hostages was released from Gaza on Sunday night – 13 Israelis, including nine children, and four foreign residents, one of whom is a man with joint Israeli-Russian nationality. An 84-year-old Israeli woman was classified in serious condition and was separated from the others at the border and flown directly to Beersheva’s Seroka hospital for emergency medical treatment.
Large crowds, cheering and waving Israeli flags, many in tears, lined the route as the hostage convoy passed by the southern town of Ofakim.
Residents of Gaza city testified that the hostages released on Sunday were taken out of a hiding place in the city, where they were handed over to the Red Cross. The Israeli military has captured most of the city but a few areas are still under Hamas control.