Ireland accuses Israel of overreacting in row over Leo Varadkar's 'lost' hostage comments

Taoiseach was accused of legitimising terrorism with remarks after Emily Hand was released from captivity

Emily Hand embracing her father at a hospital in Israel after she was released by Hamas. AFP
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Ireland has accused Israel of overreacting to comments made by its prime minister Leo Varadkar over the release of Irish-Israeli hostage Emily Hand.

Mr Varadkar, in response to news of the nine-year-old's release by Hamas, said: "An innocent child who was lost has now been found."

But it prompted anger from Israel, which accused him of "legitimising terrorism".

On Monday, Ireland’s Further Education Minister, Simon Harris, said Israel’s decision to summon the Irish ambassador for a reprimand over the comments was “a bit of an overreaction”.

Israel’s Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, said the child had been kidnapped and the comments were an attempt to “legitimise and normalise terror”.

“Mr Prime Minister, It seems you have lost your moral compass and need a reality check!" Mr Cohen posted on X, formerly 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!”

Emily was taken by Hamas militants while at a sleepover and was initially believed to have been among the 120 killed in the attack on October 7, in which dozens of hostages were also taken from a kibbutz.

Speaking to RTE radio on Monday, Mr Harris said Ireland was “utterly elated” at the child’s release.

“This is a complete distraction. Emily Hand, the little girl, is free. She’s been 50 days in captivity,” he said.

“Israel have decided to summon a number of ambassadors from a number of European countries in recent days, it’s their prerogative to do that.

“I think it is a bit of an overreaction, being honest, and I think the Taoiseach’s statement was extraordinarily clear. The main thing is Emily Hand is back with her family.”

On Sunday, Mr Varadkar called for all hostages in Gaza to be released, "without any conditions".

He said the most important thing was that Emily was at home with her family.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Varadkar’s position on violence in the Middle East was “crystal clear”.

“The child, young Emily, was kidnapped, she was held hostage and she has now been released to her family, and other hostages, and of course Palestinian women and children that were also held under administrative detention," she told the BBC.

“I think, in fairness, the Taoiseach’s position has been very consistent and very clear on these matters.

“Remember that Gaza has had 50 days of bombardment, the place has been levelled, we are faced with thousands and thousands of deaths, thousands and thousands of innocent children dead.

“I think we should not play to any move to distract from that reality and the absolute necessity that we have a permanent ceasefire and a process of peace and dialogue.

“The language, that’s a matter for himself. I understand the Taoiseach’s position, I think it is crystal clear and, in fairness to him, I think he has been consistent on those matters.”

Updated: November 27, 2023, 1:05 PM