Hamas releases 2 American hostages from Gaza, in a first since Oct. 7 attack

A photo of Natalie and Judith Raanan appearing on social media. (Distributed by the family)

by Ron Kampeas

(JTA) — Hamas has released two American hostages, a mother and a daughter, whom it was holding in the Gaza Strip.

Judith and Natalie Raanan of Evanston, Illinois, were among more than 200 people taken hostage during Hamas’ assault on Israel Oct. 7. They are the first to be released.

The pair crossed back into Israel and were transported to a military base where they would reunite with family members, Israeli officials confirmed on Friday night there. Israeli officials also said they had not made any concessions to secure their release, according to local media reports.

A photograph showed the women walking on their own while holding hands with Gal Hirsch, the Israeli government’s newly appointed hostage envoy.

A Hamas spokesman told reporters on a Telegram channel that it had “released two American citizens (a mother and her daughter) for humanitarian reasons, and to prove to the American people and the world that the claims made by Biden and his fascist administration are false and baseless.”

The release was first confirmed by an organization dedicated to the rescue of the hostages.

“The families headquarters congratulates the release of hostages from Hamas captivity,” the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said in a message it distributed to reporters on WhatsApp. “The continued holding of hostages is a war crime. Hundreds of families await the assistance of leaders of Arab states after Hamas’ actions shocked the entire world.”

President Joe Biden has sworn not to abandon the American hostages, estimated at more than a dozen, as he has backed Israel in its war against Hamas since the terrorist group invaded Israel, killing 1,400 people, most of them civilians, wounding thousands and kidnapping more than 200.

In a statement, Biden thanked “the government of Qatar and the government of Israel for their partnership” in securing the release of hostages. He said he would continue to negotiate for the release of the Americans, saying, “I have no higher priority than the safety of Americans held hostage around the world.”

The Raanans were in Israel on vacation when they were abducted from Kibbutz Nahal Oz, where they had been visiting Judith’s mother for her 85th birthday. Judith, 59, and Natalie, 17, traveled from their home in the Chicago suburb, where Natalie was a recent high school graduate and Judith, who was born in Israel, created art and was heavily involved in her local Chabad synagogue.

Like many of the people caught up in the current crisis, the family was deeply entwined in two countries. “She was quite Israeli, whether she was here or there,” a friend of Judith Raanan told the New York Times last week. “She missed being around Israelis. She felt at home with Israelis, and she missed that — the energy of Israel.”

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