EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden joined others on Friday in welcoming the stunning news from Israel that Hamas had freed an American woman and her teenage daughter it had held hostage in Gaza for two weeks.
An Israeli army spokesman said the two Americans, Judith Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter Natalie, were out of the Gaza Strip and with the Israeli military. Hamas said Friday it released them for humanitarian reasons in an agreement with the Qatari government.
They were the first hostages to be released since Hamas militants, according to Israel, abducted roughly 200 people during their Oct. 7 rampage.
“I am overjoyed that they will soon be reunited with their family, who has been wracked with fear,” Biden said in Washington.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which transported the freed Americans from Gaza to Israel, said their release offered “a sliver of hope” for those still being held.
Judith and Natalie Ranaan had been on a trip from their home in the Chicago suburb of Evanston to Israel to celebrate the Jewish holidays, according to family members. They were in Nahal Oz, near Gaza, on Oct. 7 for Simchat Torah, a festive Jewish holiday, when Hamas and other militants stormed into southern Israeli towns, killing hundreds of people and abducting others.
Their family had heard nothing from them since the attack and were later told by U.S. and Israeli officials that they were being held in Gaza, Natalie’s brother Ben has said previously.
“The news that Judith and Natalie have been released from the hands of Hamas is overwhelming. It brings us a tremendous amount of gratitude to the Almighty, to God, for this incredible miracle,” Meir Hecht, Judith Raanan’s rabbi, said at a press conference outside his home in Evanston, Illinois, on Friday afternoon.
“At the same time we hold our pain very deep,” said Hecht, who called for the other hostages to be released as soon as possible. “We need to continue besieging whoever we can and however we can, and praying for their release.”
Judith came regularly to Meir’s congregation and felt like “part of our family,” the rabbi said.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth expressed relief at news of the Raanans’ release while asking people to remember other families whose relatives were abducted.
“After being held against their will for nearly two weeks, they are now safe and receiving necessary medical treatment,” Pritzker said of Natalie and Judith. “I cannot wait to welcome them back home after demonstrating immense strength and bravery in the face of unthinkable terror.”
Qatar said it would continue its dialogue with Israel and Hamas in hopes of winning the release of all hostages “with the ultimate aim of de-escalating the current crisis and restoring peace.”
Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Israel was continuing to work to return hostages and find the missing, and its goals had not changed. “We are continuing the war against Hamas and ready for the next stage of the war,” he said.