Two American hostages, abducted by Hamas earlier this month, have been released, the Israel prime minister’s office and White House announced.
Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie, 17, were visiting southern Israel when they were kidnapped by Hamas, an Islamic terrorist group based in the Gaza Strip, on Oct. 7. Hamas reportedly abducted around 200 people and killed over 1,400 in the attack. The mother and daughter are said to be the first hostages to be released.
The White House said in a statement Friday that the U.S. government, with the help of Qatar and Israel, secured the release of the two hostages but didn’t specify how their release was secured.
“Our fellow citizens have endured a terrible ordeal these past 14 days, and I am overjoyed that they will soon be reunited with their family, who has been wracked with fear,” the White House statement reads.
NBC News reports the hostages are related to the network’s former Israel-based correspondent Martin Fletcher and live in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois.
They were staying at Nahal Oz, a kibbutz close to the Gaza border, when they were abducted.
Hamas confirmed the release in a statement.
“A woman and her daughter holding American citizenship were handed over today in Gaza,” the statement reads.
While officials did not clarify who exactly negotiated the hostages’ release, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it had helped get them to the Israeli border.
“The ICRC continues to call for the immediate release of all hostages. We are ready to visit the remaining hostages and to facilitate any future release following an agreement reached by the parties,” the ICRC said in a statement. “While held in captivity, hostages must be allowed to receive humanitarian assistance and medical care. They must be given the opportunity to contact their families. Families separated from their loved ones endure agony no matter what side of the divide they are on.
Upon release, the Raanans were received at the Gaza-Israel border by Israeli Brig. Gen. Gal Hirsch, Israel’s coordinator for the captives and missing. They were then reunited with family at an Israeli military base, according to Israel Defense Forces spokesperson.
Uri Raanan, Judith’s ex-husband and Natalie’s father expressed relief and said he had been losing sleep over their safety. Raanan expects to see his daughter return to the U.S. by her birthday on Oct. 24.
The father, who also lives in the Chicago suburbs, told The Associated Press that he spoke with his daughter by phone on Friday and was told that “she’s doing very good.”
“Tonight, I’m going to sleep good,” the 71-year-old father was quoted as saying. “[Natalie] sounds good, she looks very good, and she’s very happy and she’s waiting to come home.”
He also thanked President Joe Biden and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker for their roles in securing the release.
The Israeli government is still working to free more than 200 Israeli hostages, including at least 30 minors. It pledged continued efforts to “locate all of the missing and return all of the abductees home.”
“The Government of Israel, the IDF and the entire security apparatus will continue to do all they can, using any means available, to locate all those missing and bring home all the kidnapped,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
Jeremy Bash, former CIA Chief of Staff, told NBC News that Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet, is expected to question the Raanans for actionable intelligence.
The U.S. and Europe are making efforts to pressure Israel to stall a ground invasion of Gaza to allow more time for hostage negotiations. Several countries, including Qatar, have been pressuring Hamas for the release of the hostages.
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