President Michael D. Higgins met with the families of a number of hostages currently being held in Gaza following the attacks carried out by Hamas in Israel on 7th October.
Those in attendance at the meeting included Thomas and Natali Hand, father and sister of 8 year old Irish-Israeli child Emily Hand; and Maya Lambroso, Tal Yeshurun and Eylon Keshet, representing a number of families of those being held as hostages. In attendance also was the Ambassador of Israel to Ireland, H.E. Ms Dana Erlich.
In a statement following the meeting, President Higgins said:
“I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet with Thomas, Natali, Maya, Tal and Eylon today and to hear first-hand of the terrible impact which the events of 7th October have had on the families of those being held hostage.
What the families are going through in terms of anxiety and apprehension must be near unbearable, including in Emily Hand’s case that her father and sister know that she will be celebrating her ninth birthday while being held hostage.
The welfare of all children and civilians in Israel and Gaza should be in the forefront of all of our minds at this time.
In our meeting, we discussed what actions can be taken to help ensure the safe return of the hostages to their families.
To this end, I once again call for the unconditional release of all hostages currently being held in Gaza. I further echo the call which the families have made that the Red Cross/Red Crescent, or another appropriate organisation, must be given such access to the hostages as will enable their present position to be affirmed. I have assured the families that I will relay the importance of this request to the Irish Government.”
At today’s meeting, the President underlined the need for international law to be respected by all sides and emphasised the importance of the loss of civilian life being brought to an end as soon as possible, and for children in particular to be protected.
President Higgins noted the fact that the Taoiseach had met with the families yesterday, and that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Mícheál Martin T.D. would be travelling to Egypt, Israel and the West Bank this week, which would provide opportunities for discussing the position of the hostages and of the Irish citizens in Gaza.
The President recalled at the meeting his two discussions with the President of Israel Isaac Herzog over the last year, as well as his discussions with the President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas, at which he had emphasised the importance of a diverse body of proposals being brought forward in order to achieve a sustainable and lasting peace in the Middle East.
The President discussed with the families the importance of building a peace which can allow for both the security of the citizens of Israel, as well as for the rights of the Palestinian people to be delivered.
The President heard from the families how they felt that the past weeks have been challenging for members of Jewish communities living both in Ireland, and internationally where a rise in anti-Semitism was being reported. The President emphasised the importance of any such concerns in any part of Ireland being reported to An Garda Síochána.