WATCH: American mother, daughter freed by Hamas reunited with family

Nearly two weeks after Hamas militants kidnapped hundreds of Americans in Gaza, a Chicago-area mother and her teenage daughter were reunited with her family inside Israel on Friday, as relatives celebrated back home in Illinois.

Judith Tai Raanan, 59, and her 17-year-old daughter Natalie were handed over to Israeli forces at the Gaza Strip border on Friday, becoming the first captives confirmed for release by Hamas since the latest round of Arab-Israeli bloodshed. Burst out.

The release was announced by Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and confirmed a short time later in a statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Israeli leader said the mother and daughter, from the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, were “heading to a meeting point at a military base in the center of the country, where their family members were waiting for them.”

Reached by phone in Bannockburn, Illinois, outside Chicago, the teen’s father, Uri Raanan, said he spoke to his daughter on the phone. “She seems very, very well, very happy – and she looks good.”

Natalie Raanan’s uncle, Avraham Zamir, said the family is happy the couple has been released safely. “But there are still many families whose loved ones are still held hostage, and we will continue our efforts to secure their release,” he said from his home in Illinois.

At the lighting of candles to mark the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath at sunset on Friday, Rabbi Meir Hecht, co-director of the Chabad House in Evanston, where Judith Raanan has worshiped for more than 10 years, said the Orthodox Jewish congregation is offering “ultimate peace “expects. ,

“Our prayers for Judith and Natalie have been answered,” he said. “We will continue to pray for each hostage.”

The mother and daughter were abducted from Kibbutz Nahal Oz during a surprise attack on southern Israel from Gaza by Iranian-backed Hamas militants on October 7, according to both Netanyahu and relatives.

Family members said the pair visited the kibbutz about a mile from the Gaza border as part of a trip that began in September to celebrate Jewish holidays, younger Raanan’s high school graduation and his grandmother’s 85th birthday. Was staying.

Friends described Judith Raanan new York Times As an artist and skilled cook of Israeli food, she is devoted to her Jewish faith, which informs her paintings, and keeps kosher in her home. She most recently worked as a home aide for elderly people Times informed of.

Natalie Rainon’s brother, Ben Rainon, told denver post His sister was considering whether she should find work in the fashion industry, become an interior designer, or apprentice as a tattoo artist.

A photo taken by Israeli media showed the mother and daughter being escorted across the border by a group of uniformed Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers after their release. The two appeared healthy as they walked through the illuminated darkness, arm-in-arm with the IDF’s chief hostage negotiator, Israeli Brigadier General Gal Hirsch.

US President Joe Biden thanked Qatar and Israel for their partnership in securing Ranans’ freedom. The president said on social media platform X that he had spoken to both of them on the telephone and posted a photo of them, apparently taken during that call.

Separately, Hamas released a video of two women being handed over to International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) workers.

Raanan was among about 200 hostages taken by Hamas during a deadly assault on communities and military targets in southern Israel, part of the bloodiest attack on the country since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

Hamas said 50 more people were being held captive by other armed groups in the coastal Palestinian territories. It said more than 20 hostages were killed in Israeli air strikes, but gave no further details.

Release ‘First Step’

Hamas said the two women, whom Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported were dual Israeli-American citizens, were freed “for humanitarian reasons” in response to Qatar’s mediation.

Hamas has previously described detainees of “foreign” nationality as “guests” who will be released when circumstances permit, without specifying whether this included Israelis with dual nationality.

A source briefed on the hostage negotiations described the release of the two Americans as a “first step” and said, “Discussions continue for more releases.”

US and British officials said they were working with Qatar to secure the release of hostages, including its own citizens, being held in Gaza. Other countries whose citizens were detained include Thailand, Argentina, Germany, France and Portugal.

Israel responded to the October 7 attack, which killed 1,400, by launching airstrikes on Gaza that killed at least 4,500, and has said it will take action to free the hostages while eliminating Hamas.

Netanyahu’s options for hitting back at Hamas will certainly be constrained by concerns over the safety of Israeli captives captured in the raid, as the country, scarred by previous hostage crises, faces perhaps its worst crisis yet.

The prime minister has vowed “fierce retaliation,” but the fate of Israeli soldiers, veterans, women and children taken into Gaza complicates how Israel can deliver on that promise while adhering to its long-standing principle of leaving no one behind. Does.

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