Hamas releases 2 hostages, American mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Raanan, as war with Israel nears 3rd week

Two American hostages freed from Gaza by Hamas

Two U.S. hostages, a mother and a daughter from suburban Chicago, were released by the Hamas militant group on Friday, officials announced. The freed hostages were identified as Judith and Natalie Raanan, who are dual U.S.-Israeli citizens, according to a spokesperson for the Israeli prime minister's office.

The Raanans were taken from Gaza by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the group said in a statement, and Israel's military and security forces met the pair at the country's border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, the spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said. 

They were being taken to a military base to be reunited with family members. Late Friday night in Israel, a photo of the Raanans was released by Netanyahu's office.

Natalie Raanan, grey shirt, and her mother, Judith, are seen with Israeli security forces after they were released by Hamas on Oct. 20, 2023. Government of Israel

"We're extremely, extremely joyful, happy," Avi Zamir, Natalie's uncle, told CBS News. 

Zamir thanked President Biden and the State Department for their efforts to gain the hostages' release, and said, "In a moment of joy for us as a family we are still remembering and acknowledging that there are still over 200 hostages and there are still families whose loved ones are still being held hostage and we will continue the struggle and effort to bring them back home safely, each and every single one of them."

President Biden spoke by phone with the two former hostages Friday afternoon. 

"I let them know that their government will fully support them as they recover and heal," Mr. Biden said in a tweet, sharing a photo of their call. "Jill and I will continue holding close in our hearts all the families of unaccounted for Americans."

Earlier in the day, the president spoke with some of their family members, the White House said. 

"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," Mr. Biden said in a statement. 

As he boarded Air Force One Friday evening at Joint Base Andrews, Mr. Biden responded "yes" when asked by a reporter whether he wanted Israel to delay a ground invasion of Gaza until more hostages were freed. 

How many U.S. hostages does Hamas have?

In Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said 10 additional Americans remain unaccounted for after Hamas carried out a brutal terror attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7, igniting a war.

"We know that some of them are being held hostage by Hamas along with an estimated 200 other hostages held in Gaza," Blinken told reporters. "They include men, women, young boys, young girls, elderly people, from many nations. Every single one of them should be released."

Why did Hamas release Judith and Natalie Raanan?

A message posted to a Hamas-affiliated Telegram channel said the release was made for "humanitarian reasons."

Asked about a Hamas claim that all the civilian hostages could be released if Israel's airstrikes stop, Blinken said the hostages should be released unconditionally.

"I would not take anything that Hamas says at face value," Blinken said. "I'm not sure anyone in this room would take at face value or report something that ISIS had said. Same applies to Hamas. Our position is clear: Every hostage needs to be released and needs to be released now."

According to CBS News Chicago, the Raanans were visiting family in Israel, near the Gaza border, in a community called Nahal Oz, a kibbutz that was attacked by Hamas. Natalie Raanan just graduated from Deerfield High School in north suburban Chicago.

Her uncle, Avi Zamir, told CBS News Chicago she had texted the family shortly after the bombing began on Oct. 7, saying, "We're all fine, yes indeed. Mommy's room that she was sleeping in got bombed, but we are now transferring to another guest house where there is a shelter."

Judith and Natalie Raanan CBS

Their release comes nearly two weeks after the war began. Israel said its ongoing airstrikes hit more Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Friday, as it began evacuating a town near its northern border with Lebanon.

Friday's airstrikes stopped in the early afternoon, catching some people in the Palestinian territory off guard and prompting some to wonder if there was a cease-fire, according to CBS News reporting from inside Gaza.


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