Hamas releases two US hostages with hope for more

Saturday October 21 2023

Natalie Shoshana Raanan (L) and Judith Tai Raanan speaking on the phone with US President Joe Biden at the US embassy in Jerusalem, after being held hostage and later released by Hamas on October 20, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


Gaza's Hamas rulers released two Americans on Friday among some 200 hostages they abducted in brutal October 7 attacks in Israel and indicated that more could follow.

Judith Tai Raanan and her daughter Natalie Shoshana Raanan were back in Israel late Friday, the Israeli government said.

No details were given on their condition, but US President Joe Biden said he was "overjoyed" at the news. Biden spoke by phone to the two women after they were freed.

And Hamas said it was working with Qatar and Egypt to free its "civilian" hostages, in a sign that more releases could follow.

Read: Who are the leaders of Hamas?

The pair were met at the Gaza border by an Israeli envoy and taken to a military base in central Israel "where their families are waiting to meet them".


The American mother and daughter were seized from the Nahal Oz kibbutz near the Israel-Gaza border on October 7. They were reportedly on holiday in Israel at the time.

The Ranaan family, like those of many of the hostages, had launched an international campaign to press for efforts to bring them out of Gaza.

Ben Raanan, Natalie's half-brother told the BBC of the "overwhelming sense of joy... and gratitude" at the news of their release.

He also thanked the "community around the world who have really put my sister at the forefront of their thoughts, of their prayers".

Hamas said that after being approached by Qatar and Egypt, "(Ezzedine) al-Qassam Brigades released two American citizens for humanitarian reasons".

Gaza's Islamist rulers said they were "working with all mediators to implement the movement's decision to close the civilian (hostage) file if appropriate security conditions allow". It gave no details of its demands.

Israel says 203 people -- Israelis, dual nationals and foreigners -- were abducted by Hamas gunmen when they launched the deadliest attacks in Israel's 75-year history. At least 1,400 people were killed, mostly civilians, according to the government.

Israel has responded with a relentless bombing campaign against the Gaza Strip that has left at least 4,137 people dead, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas administration.

Read: Israel vows Hamas's destruction after deadly assault

The hostages have become a major issue in Israel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said the government would use "any means available to locate all those missing and bring home all the kidnapped".

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had helped transport the freed Americans to Israel.

Its president Mirjana Spoljaric said their release provided a "sliver of hope" for the families of other hostages and called on all sides in the conflict to show "a minimum of humanity".

The release came two days after Biden made a solidarity visit to Israel to offer support over the attack.

"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," he said in a statement.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for more releases "immediately and unconditionally".

"Every single one of them should be released."

Blinken said a team from the US Embassy would visit the two freed women but offered no information about their condition.

Qatar is a major donor of aid to Gaza and two Hamas leaders are based in the Gulf state. A Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesman said the country had mediated between Hamas and the United States and that the release followed "many days of continuous communication between all the parties involved.

Read: Arab support for Palestinians swells

"We will continue our dialogue with both the Israelis and Hamas, and we hope these efforts will lead to the release of all civilian hostages from every nationality, with the ultimate aim of de-escalating the current crisis and restoring peace," said the spokesman, Majid al-Ansari.

The Israeli military said earlier Friday that most of those abducted to Gaza were still alive even though some dead bodies have been found on incursions into Gaza.

The military said more than 20 hostages were minors, while between 10 and 20 were over the age of 60.

There are also between 100 and 200 people considered missing since the Hamas attacks, the army added.