Hamas released two American hostages, Judith Tai Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter, Natalie Raanan, on Friday nearly two weeks after launching a deadly attack in Israel and abducting around 200 people.
The US citizens were handed over at the border with Gaza and are now in the care of the Israel Defense Forces, IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said on Friday. They are currently on their way to an Israeli military base to be reunited with family, according to the office for Israel’s prime minister.
The Raanans are from Chicago and had been visiting relatives in Nahal Oz, a farming community in southern Israel, when they were taken hostage on October 7, according to their family.
US President Joe Biden spoke to the pair following their release, telling them: “I’m glad you’re out.”
In a video posted on social media, Natalie Ranaan thanked Biden for his “services to Israel.”
“I’m just delighted we’re able to get you out. We’ve been working on it a long time,” the president told the Raanans in a phone call from the Oval office.
“I hope you’re both not only feeling good, but in good health as well,” Biden added.
During the attack, Hamas militants killed more than 1,400 people, including civilians and soldiers, according to Israeli authorities. It was the most deadly attack by militants in Israel’s 75-year history and revealed a staggering intelligence failure by the country’s security forces.
Israel has since responded by enacting a blockade on Gaza and launching a barrage of airstrikes into the Palestinian enclave, deepening its humanitarian crisis. Israeli airstrikes in Gaza have killed more than 4,100 people, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
The hostages released on Friday were handed over to the Red Cross, according to a source familiar with negotiations for their release. CNN has reached out to the Red Cross.
They were released on “humanitarian grounds” because the mother is in poor health, the same source said. The release was the result of negotiations between Qatar and Hamas.
In a statement, Hamas spokesperson Abu Obaida said: “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.”
Qatar confirmed the release of the two American hostages and said they will “continue dialogue with Israel and Hamas in hope of releasing all civilian hostages from every nationality,” the spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Majid Al-Ansari said in a statement.
Uri Raanan, Natalie’s father and Judith’s ex-husband, said on Friday he was tremendously relieved to hear of their release.
“I haven’t been sleeping for two weeks,” Raanan told reporters outside his home near Chicago. “Tonight I’m going to sleep good.”
“Next week is Natalie’s birthday, on the 24th, and we’re going to celebrate her birthday here in my home,” he added. “I’m going to hug her and kiss her, and it’s going to be the best day of my life.”
And at the Evanston home of Rabbi Meir Hecht, whose synagogue Judith attends, his wife Yehudis Hecht lit two candles to usher in Shabbat and “thank God for miracles and pray for continued miracles for all of Israel” on Friday.
“It’s been unreal. We love Judith, and obviously our hearts were turned upside down, broken,” she said. “We are beyond grateful and we pray that they have quick healing from all that they’ve endured.”
The release of the two American hostages is “hopefully the start of more to come,” a diplomatic source with knowledge of the arrangements told CNN. The source indicated no exchanges were part of their release.
The news came after Biden, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak flocked to Israel in recent days, amid growing pressure on world leaders to secure the release of the hostages.
A number of foreign nationals were among those kidnapped by Hamas, including people from the US, Mexico, Brazil and Thailand.
Information about the status, location and identity of all the hostages remains scarce. Some have been identified by families who recognize them from online videos, sparking desperate pleads for their return.
In a statement on Friday, Hamas said it is working with mediators in Egypt, Qatar and other “friendly countries” to release foreign nationals.
“This commitment remains resolute as we endeavor to enact our decision to release individuals of foreign nationalities under temporary custody, as and when security circumstances permit,” the statement said.
Representatives of the hostages have welcomed the release of the two Americans.
“The families’ headquarters welcomes the release of hostages from Hamas captivity,” the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said in a statement to CNN.
“We call on world leaders and the international community to exert their full power in order to act for the release of all the hostages and missing.”