Hamas Releases Two American Hostages Held Captive in Gaza

Two American captives, a mother-daughter duo from a suburb of Chicago, were freed by Hamas militants this past Friday, authorities confirmed.

The released individuals were identified as Judith and Natalie Raanan, both of whom hold dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship, a representative from the office of the Israeli Prime Minister conveyed.

After their release, the Raanans were escorted out of Gaza by the International Committee of the Red Cross, according to a statement from the group.

Upon arrival at the border between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, they were received by Israeli military and security personnel, an official from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office informed.

They were planned to be transported to a military facility for a reunion with their family. A photograph of the Raanans was released late Friday night in Israel by Netanyahu’s office.

“We’re extremely joyful and happy,” Avi Zamir, Natalie’s uncle, expressed to CBS News. He extended gratitude towards President Biden and the State Department for their roles in the hostages’ release.

He added, “Even in this moment of happiness for our family, we acknowledge that over 200 hostages remain captive, with their families awaiting their return. We remain dedicated to our efforts and struggle to ensure the safe return of each one.”

President Biden had a phone conversation with the two recently freed hostages on Friday afternoon.

“I assured them of their government’s full support during their recovery and healing,” President Biden revealed in a tweet, posting a photograph of the call. “Jill and I keep all families of unaccounted-for Americans close in our hearts.”

Earlier that day, the president spoke with several of their family members, as reported by the White House.

“Our fellow citizens have endured a terrible ordeal over the past 14 days, and I am overjoyed they will soon reunite with their family, who have been living in fear,” Mr. Biden said in a statement.

In response to a reporter’s question about whether he advocated delaying an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza until more hostages were released, Mr. Biden affirmed with a “yes” while boarding Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Friday evening.

In Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken disclosed that 10 Americans remain missing after a severe Hamas attack in southern Israel on October 7, which initiated a war.

“We understand some are held hostage by Hamas, alongside an estimated 200 other captives in Gaza,” Blinken told reporters. “These include individuals of all ages and nationalities. Each one must be freed.”

What led to Hamas releasing Judith and Natalie Raanan?

The militant group claimed “humanitarian reasons” for the action, according to a message on a Hamas-affiliated Telegram channel.

Addressing Hamas’s assertion that ceasing Israeli airstrikes could prompt the release of all civilian hostages, Blinken demanded an unconditional release.

“I don’t accept anything Hamas says as the absolute truth,” Blinken declared.

“I doubt anyone here would trust or report ISIS’s words without question. The same skepticism applies to Hamas. Our stance is clear: Every hostage must be released immediately.”

CBS News Chicago reported the Raanans were visiting relatives in Israel near the Gaza border, in a community called Nahal Oz, a kibbutz Hamas attacked. Natalie Raanan recently graduated from Deerfield High School in Chicago’s northern suburbs.

Her uncle, Avi Zamir, relayed to CBS News Chicago a text message from Natalie after the bombing began on October 7, stating, “We’re all fine, really. Mom’s room was bombed, but we’ve relocated to a guest house with a shelter.”

Their release occurred nearly two weeks into the conflict. Reports indicate that Israel’s airstrikes on Hamas targets within the Gaza Strip continued on Friday, and an evacuation began in a town near its northern border with Lebanon.

The airstrikes halted early Friday afternoon, causing confusion among some in the Palestinian territories and leading to speculation about a possible ceasefire, as reported by CBS News from inside Gaza.