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2 American hostages held since Hamas attack on Israel released: IDF

Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie Raanan were abducted by Hamas Oct. 7.

October 21, 2023, 2:00 PM

The long nightmare in captivity for two of the hostages taken by Hamas during its deadly surprise attack on Israel has ended, Israeli authorities said.

Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter, Natalie Raanan, 17, were released by Hamas to the Red Cross and are now back in Israel, Israel Defense Forces said.

Their conditions were not immediately clear.

The Raanans are from Illinois. Ben Raanan, the brother of Natalie Raanan and son of Judith Raanan, said his mom and sister were in Israel for a relative's birthday when they were taken hostage.

In a statement Saturday, representatives for the family thanked the Biden administration and called the release of the Raanans a "moment of extraordinary relief -- far beyond anything we can express in words." The family said eight other family members are still missing in Gaza.

"We will work around the clock with the other families of those held hostage until each and every one of them is back home," said the statement issued by Ayelet, Or and Limor Sella, spokespeople for the Ranaan family, and the cousins of Judith and Natalie.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Friday that the hostages were received "at the border of the Gaza Strip" and were being taken to "a meeting point at a military base in the center of the country, where their family members are waiting for them."

PHOTO: Judith Raanan and Natalie Raanan in a handout photo.
Judith Raanan and Natalie Raanan in a handout photo.
Courtesy Raanan Family

He added, "The Government of Israel, the IDF and the entire security establishment will continue to operate with the best of their abilities and efforts in order to locate all the missing and return the abductees are all home."

Hamas said in a statement that the hostages, a mother and daughter who are both Americans, were released "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 International Committee of the Red Cross said it helped facilitate the release of the hostages by transporting them from Gaza to Israel.

"The release of two hostages in Gaza today is a sliver of hope. We are extremely relieved that these two families can now be reunited after two weeks of agony," said ICRC president Mirjana Spoljaric.

President Joe Biden in a statement said he was "overjoyed" at the news of the Raanans' release and thanked the governments of Qatar and Israel for their partnerships in securing their release.

"Jill and I have been holding close in our hearts all the families of unaccounted for Americans. And, as I told those families when I spoke with them last week—we will not stop until we get their loved ones home," Biden said.

PHOTO: Chicago-area residents Judith Tai Raanan and her daughter Natalie Shoshana Raanan are escorted by Gal Hirsch, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's appointed hostage negotiator, after being freed from Gaza and arriving in Israel, Oct. 20, 2023.
Chicago-area residents Judith Tai Raanan and her daughter Natalie Shoshana Raanan are escorted by Gal Hirsch, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's appointed hostage negotiator, after being freed from Gaza and arriving in Israel, Oct. 20, 2023.
Israeli PM Office

The White House said later in the evening that the president spoke with the Raanans over the phone.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that a team from the U.S. embassy will see the Raanans shortly.

"Over the coming hours, they'll receive any support and assistance that they need. And of course, we're very anxious to be able to reunite them with their loved ones," he told reporters.

Jeff Woodke, who was released by Al Qaida earlier this year after six and a half years of captivity, told ABC News that the Raanans will go through a strict agenda before they can return home.

First, they will have to undergo a medical evaluation, then they will have time to talk to their families, Woodke said. After that, they will be debriefed by intelligence officials and then sent home, he said.

"It might be an opportunity to do story-telling, during which will help agents pick up as many details as they can," Woodke said.

Ten Americans remain unaccounted for, and some of them are among the estimated 200 people being held by Hamas, Blinken said Friday.

Hamas militants took hundreds of captives during their Oct. 7 rampage through southern Israel after they breached the security barriers separating Gaza and Israel. Hamas militants fired thousands of rockets and indiscriminately gunned down soldiers and civilians caught off guard by the early morning attack.

Many of the hostages were young Israelis who were snatched at an all-night music festival celebrating the end of the Sukkot Jewish holiday.

The militants killed 260 festivalgoers, according to Israeli rescue service Zaka.

The release of the hostages Friday came after President Joe Biden traveled to Israel on Oct. 18 and said in a public address that he had requested that "the global community demand that the International Red Cross be able to visit hostages."

PHOTO: A woman looks at posters showing the pictures of Israeli hostages held by Palestinian militants since the Oct. 7 attack, near Azrieli Mall in Tel Aviv on Oct. 18, 2023.
A woman looks at posters showing the pictures of Israeli hostages held by Palestinian militants since the Oct. 7 attack, near Azrieli Mall in Tel Aviv on Oct. 18, 2023.
Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

At the time, Biden said he couldn't speak publicly about the efforts being made to free the hostages, but said, "For me as the American president, there is no higher priority than the release and safe return of all these hostages."

Hamas had been in negotiations with Qatar government officials to release women, children and the elderly who are not Israeli, officials said on Oct. 17. During the negotiations, Hamas said the release of some hostages would depend on whether Israel was willing to free 36 women and teenage Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons, but Israel rejected the proposal, according to the The Times of Israel newspaper.

In an Oct. 16 statement, Hamas said it was holding about 200 hostages, and that other Palestinian armed groups were holding additional hostages. Islamic Jihad has claimed it is holding 30 hostages.

Hamas has previously claimed to have built 500 kilometers -- more than 300 miles -- of tunnels under Gaza. The tunnel system is so extensive and well-known it's referred to by some -- including the Israel Defense Forces -- as the "metro."

PHOTO: President Joe Biden meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he arrives in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct 18, 2023.
President Joe Biden meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he arrives in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct 18, 2023.
EPN/Newscom

U.S. officials have also urged Israel to find ways to minimize casualties of civilians in Gaza while conducting military maneuvers, including sending forces into the Palestinian territory to search for the hostages.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner of the Israel Defense Forces told ABC News on Oct. 16 that specialized Israeli units had been probing areas of Gaze looking for the hostages in advance of an expected Israeli ground incursion into the Palestinian territory.

He said some of the hostages did not survive the forced journey into Gaza and their bodies were found dumped near the Israel-Gaza border.

For one Israeli mother who spoke to ABC News, word of the hostages being freed came too late. The mother, Galit Dan, had held onto hope that her daughter, who had autism, and her elderly mother, who were both taken hostage, would be found alive.

But on Oct. 18, Dan said she learned from authorities that the bodies of her mother and daughter were found at the Gaza border.

The last message she had from her daughter was a phone message she left on the morning of the attack, calling for help from her grandmother's house as Hamas fighters closed in.

Some of the hostages who were being held in Gaza were already suffering from ailments before they were abducted, according to Geneva-based organization the Hostage and Missing Families Forum. The hostages included an elderly woman with Parkinson's disease and a 60-year-old man with multiple sclerosis, the organization said.

Other hostages were believed to have suffered from limbs amputated during the Hamas attack and severe injuries from rape, the organization said.

The hostages are "enduring extreme conditions as time runs critically short," the organization said on Oct. 16.

During the hostage ordeal, Hamas threatened to kill the captives one by one and film the executions if their demands were not met.

However, Hamas released very little information about the hostages during the time they were being held.

PHOTO: Keren Shem, the mother Mia Shem, held hostage by Hamas militants in Gaza, holds a photograph of her daughter as she speaks to the press in Tel Aviv on Oct. 17, 2023.
Keren Shem, the mother Mia Shem, held hostage by Hamas militants in Gaza, holds a photograph of her daughter as she speaks to the press in Tel Aviv on Oct. 17, 2023. She urged world leaders to free her daughter after the Islamists aired a video showing her in captivity.
Gil Cohen Magen/AFP via Getty Images

On Oct. 16, a Hamas proof-of-life video emerged of hostage Mia Schem, a 21-year-old Israeli woman abducted during the music festival near the Gaza border, where the terrorist killed 260 people.

In an Oct. 17 interview, Shem's mother, Keren, told ABC News, that while she was relieved to see her daughter alive in the video, she described the ordeal her family was experiencing as "the worst nightmare every mother can have" and pleaded with the world to demand the release of all of the hostages.

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