An American mother and her teenage daughter who were being held hostage in Gaza, have been freed. Judith and 17-year-old Natalie Raanan from Chicago who were kidnapped from a kibbutz by Hamas militants during the October 7 attacks on southern Israel, were taken to an Israeli military base. They are the first of around 200 hostages to be released.
The Ranaans had been on a visit to Israel to celebrate the 85th birthday of Judith’s mother and Natalie’s graduation from high school during the Jewish holidays, according to their US-based family who had heard nothing from them since the attacks and were later told by US and Israeli officials that they were being held in Gaza.
Judith’s mother Tamar Raanan and her partner Yehiel survived by hiding in their safe room at their home in the Nahal Oz kibbutz until they were rescued by Israeli soldiers. Another eight members of the extended Raanan family are missing from Kibbutz Be’eri. Three others were killed, including a carer.
Natalie Raanan’s half-brother told the BBC of the “overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude” after learning that Natalie and Judith had been freed. Ben Raanan paid tribute to the “community around the world who have really put my sister at the forefront of their thoughts and prayers”. He said Natalie has a “great head on her shoulders” and that her “street-smarts” would have helped the teenager through “the most horrible of ordeals.”
US President Joe Biden said he was overjoyed that the mother and daughter will soon be reunited with their family. He has spoken to them briefly. The president thanked Qatar and Israel for what he called “their partnership in this work” and said his government was working “around the clock” to free all American hostages.
The Gulf state of Qatar said the release came about after what it called “many days of continuous communication.” The foreign ministry in Doha said it hoped continued dialogue would lead to the release of other hostages “with the ultimate aim of de-escalating the current crisis and restoring peace.” The International Committee of the Red Cross which transported the Raanans from Gaza to Israel, said their release was “a sliver of hope.”
Hamas said the mother and daughter were freed in response to mediation efforts by the Qatari government “for humanitarian reasons,” adding that it was working with mediators “to close the case” of hostages if security circumstances permit. The group added that it is committed to mediation efforts by Egypt, Qatar and other countries.
Relatives of other captives welcomed the release and appealed for more people to be freed. The Israeli army put out a statement saying that it believes the majority of the hostages are alive.
Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said Israel continued to work to return hostages and find the missing, and its goals had not changed. “We are continuing the war against Hamas and are ready for the next stage of the war,” he declared.
The Raanans release came amid growing expectations of an Israeli ground offensive in Gaza aimed at rooting out the Hamas militants who rule the territory. Israel has reiterated it does not plan to take long-term control over the enclave which is home to 2.3 million Palestinians.
Photo: Government of Israel