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An American mother and daughter who were taken hostage when Hamas stormed the kibbutz they were visiting earlier this month have been released.

Judith Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter, Natalie, were both let go from Hamas custody in Gaza and were said to be en route to a military base in central Israel to reunite with their family, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed on X.

A photograph later showed the mother and daughter being escorted through the night by what appeared to be military officials.

Prior to Mr Netanyahu’s statement, Hamas officials said that they released the two women following Qatar’s intervention in negotiation efforts, the NY Post reports.

“In response to Qatari efforts, Al-Qassam Brigades 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 announcement read, according to the Times of Israel.

The two victims were transferred from Gaza to the Israeli border by the Red Cross, the officials added.

They were released due to Judith’s declining health, the Times of Israel reported.

Natalie Raanan could be back in the States early next week, her brother Ben told CNN.

“We have heard tentatively that she might be coming back to Chicago sometime early next week,” he said, adding that he heard of their release through the media.

“This all moved so quickly, I was getting texts from reporters I met with saying this happened. I believe it’s because the government didn’t want to call us before it had been confirmed.”

US President Joe Biden spoke with the Raanans after their release, he announced on X.

“I just spoke with the two Americans released today after being held hostage by Hamas. I let them know that their government will fully support them as they recover and heal,” he said.

“Jill and I will continue holding close in our hearts all the families of unaccounted for Americans.”

In a statement earlier in the day, the commander in chief 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.”

“I thank the government of Qatar and the government of Israel for their partnership in this work,” he added.

“And, as I told those families when I spoke with them last week — we will not stop until we get their loved ones home. As president, I have no higher priority than the safety of Americans held hostage around the world.”

Judith and Natalie, from Evanston, Illinois, were taken hostage when Hamas stormed Kibbutz Nahal Oz 13 days ago, it was previously reported.

Their release is “hopefully the start of more to come”, a diplomatic source told CNN.

The same source also confirmed that there were no exchanges involved in the release, the outlet noted.

“The families’ headquarters welcomes the release of hostages from Hamas captivity,” the Hostages and Missing Families Forum — which represents the relatives of the Hamas hostages — said in a statement sent to CNN.

“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,” the write-up continued.

“Hamas committed war crimes. Many leaders in Arab states have tremendous influence over its leaders and must act to immediately release all the hostages and missing held in Gaza.”

Uri Raanan, Natalie’s father and Judith’s ex-husband, could not immediately be reached by The Post for comment.

Since his daughter and former spouse went missing, Uri Raanan, who also lives in Illinois, has maintained a Facebook page covered in pleas for the pair’s release.

He also opened a GoFundMe for the effort, which stopped accepting donations sometime late Thursday or early Friday.

The Raanans were enjoying a “really special” trip to Israel to celebrate the 85th birthday of Judith’s mother and observe the Jewish holiday season when the Hamas war started, their rabbi, Meir Hecht, told the outlet.

The mother and daughter’s family members have also been informed, the report added.

“This is a huge sigh of relief,” relative Martin Fletcher, an NBC correspondent who once covered the Middle East and was the network’s Tel Aviv bureau chief, told MSNBC. “It’s a miracle.”

Ben Raanan told NewsNation that he thinks he’s “just going to hug them and just not let them go … I don’t think there are words to describe the emotions that we’re going to be feeling” when he’s finally reunited with his sister and stepmum.

Armed terrorists from Hamas took at least 203 people — including young children and the elderly — captive and killed hundreds more during the early-morning launch of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7.

The deadly raid — which started when Hamas stormed through the border crossing between southern Israel and the Gaza Strip and launched thousands of rockets in the space of just a couple hours — kicked off the Israel-Hamas war that has since killed over 1400 Israelis.

Since the start of the conflict, Israeli officials have vowed to wipe out Hamas while also working to rescue the hostages, many of whom were believed to be held in the terror group’s tunnel system underneath Gaza.

At one point, Hamas suggested that the hostages could be exchanged for the approximately 6000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

The group also stated that over 20 hostages had been killed by Israeli air strikes, but did not provide further details.

Israel subsequently announced that its formidable blockade of the Strip would not end until all the hostages were released.

Hopeful viewers, however, should be careful not to trust Hamas’ “humanitarian” angle on releasing the Raanans, former FBI agent and hostage team expert Christopher O’Leary told The Post.

“They are doing this for calculated reasons,” Mr O’Leary insisted, noting that “Hamas does not have a humanitarian bone in their body”.

“This was not a goodwill or good faith gesture … they are playing a long game with the hostages,” he added.

“They may be doing it to build some credibility in negotiations, [because] right now they do not seem like a legitimate negotiator.

“It also could be a counternarrative to what Biden put out yesterday, going directly after Hamas and categorising them as a terrorist organisation.”

“Hamas is the quintessential terrorist organisation,” Mr O’Leary concluded.

On October 20 — nearly two weeks after the initial Hamas attack — the Israel Defense Forces also confirmed that more than 20 of the hostages were under the age of 18, with another 10 to 20 over age 60, The Wall Street Journal reported.

At the time, the IDF also said it had reason to believe that the majority of the hostages were still alive — though it was still scanning the Gaza border for bodies of missing Israelis, spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said at a press conference, per the Times of Israel.

Several hostages were believed to have been taken from the attack on the Tribe of Nova music festival in the southern Negev, where 260 people were gunned down when Hamas stormed the outdoor concert area.

One of the festival captives, Mia Shem, appeared alive in a brief clip on October 16 and detailed a harrowing three-hour surgery in Gaza before begging for her release.

“They are taking care of me, giving me medicine, everything is fine. I only ask that they bring me home as soon as possible to my parents, to my siblings,” the 21-year-old pleaded.

“Get me out of here as soon as possible. Please.”

The families of the hostages have spoken out frequently both individually and through Bring Them Home Now, an organisation that was created to represent the loved ones of the missing.

Amid their agony, many of them expressed frustration with the Israeli government.

“Every second, every second, that our children are there is one second too much, and yet all [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu talks about is ‘winning the war,’” Hadas Kalderon, whose son, daughter, mother and niece were taken from Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7, told the Washington Post.

On October 18, Kalderon learned that her mother, Carmela, and her niece, Noya, were both dead.

There was still no information about her son, Erez, 12, or her 16-year-old daughter, Sahar.

“We are simple people; we are good citizens. We gave whatever we could to our country. It’s the Israeli government that just forgot us,” she lamented.

This article originally appeared on NY Post and was reproduced with permission



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