'Pray for other hostages to come back home': Family of two Americans released by Hamas speak out (WATCH)
The release of two American hostages by Hamas marks the first among at least 203 hostages held by the organization since their infiltration and the tragic events in Israeli southern communities that triggered the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
Family of Judith Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter Natalie, the two American hostages freed by Hamas on Friday after two weeks of captivity, have expressed relief and joy over their release amid the Palestinian terrorist group's ongoing war with Israel. The two, who hold dual US-Israeli citizenship, were abducted during the October 7 attack by Hamas, specifically from Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Their release marks the first among at least 203 hostages held by Hamas since the organization's infiltration and the tragic events in Israeli southern communities that triggered the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.
The two, being American citizens as well, were handed over to the Red Cross, which subsequently transferred them to Israel. The exact mechanism of the transfer was not immediately clear. Hamas cited that the release was made “for humanitarian reasons.” The release was announced by Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for the armed wing of Hamas, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, and confirmed a short time later in a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli leader mentioned that the mother and daughter, who hail from the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, were "on their way to a meeting point at a military base in the center of the country, where their family members are waiting for them."
Uri Raanan, the teenager's father, reached by phone in Bannockburn, Illinois, a suburb outside Chicago, reported that he had a conversation with his daughter. He shared, "She sounds exceptionally well, very happy, and she appears to be in good health. I was waiting for this day for two week. This is the best day of my life. Pray hopefully for good news. I pray for all the hostages to come back home."
"I was in the dark for the last couple of weeks. He (Biden) was very happy and I will thank him for his support for to release Natalie and Judith and hopefully to release the rest of the hostages.
Ben Raanan, the brother of Natalie, found it challenging to put into words the family's emotions. He expressed, "When I see her again, I believe there won't be adequate words to express what we're feeling." "It will be an intense hug, greater than words, and beyond what we can convey verbally," he added.
Natalie Raanan's uncle, Avraham Zamir, expressed the family's joy at the safe release of the pair. He emphasized, "Yet, there are still numerous families whose loved ones remain in captivity, and our efforts for their release will persist," speaking from his home in Illinois.
During a candle lighting ceremony to mark the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath at sunset on Friday, Rabbi Meir Hecht, who serves as the co-director of the Chabad House in Evanston where Judith Raanan has been a member for over a decade, expressed the Orthodox Jewish congregation's aspiration for lasting peace.
He remarked, "Our prayers have been heard, and we're grateful for the safe return of Judith and Natalie. We will persist in our prayers for the well-being of all the hostages."
The mother and daughter were on a visit to a kibbutz, located approximately a mile from the Gaza border. Their journey commenced in September, with the purpose of celebrating Jewish holidays, their younger family member's high school graduation, and their grandmother's 85th birthday.
According to friends who spoke to the New York Times, Judith Raanan was known as an artist with a talent for cooking Israeli cuisine. Her deep devotion to her Jewish faith influenced her artwork, and she maintained a kosher household. Additionally, she had recently been employed as a home aide for elderly individuals, as reported by The Times.
Israeli media featured an image of the mother and daughter, escorted by uniformed Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel, immediately following their release near the border. In the photo, they appeared in good health as they walked hand-in-hand through the illuminated darkness, accompanied by Israeli Brigadier General Gal Hirsch, the IDF's chief hostage negotiator.
US President Joe Biden expressed his gratitude to both Qatar and Israel for their collaboration in securing the freedom of the Raanan mother and daughter. The President shared on his social media platform that he had a telephone conversation with the two and even posted a photo, presumably taken during their call.
Hamas, separately, released a video capturing the moment when the two women were handed over to workers from the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC). According to reports quoting sources familiar with the hostage negotiations, the release of the two Americans was referred to as 'a first step,' with ongoing discussions for additional releases.
American and British authorities have been actively collaborating with Qatar to facilitate the release of hostages, including their respective citizens who were held in Gaza. Among the captives are individuals from various countries, including Thailand, Argentina, Germany, France, and Portugal.
Following the October 7th attack, which resulted in the loss of 1,400 lives, Israel responded with air strikes on Gaza, resulting in the casualties of over 4,000 individuals. Israel has declared its intention to both secure the release of the hostages and dismantle Hamas.
Prime Minister Netanyahu's choices regarding a retaliatory action against Hamas are likely to be constrained due to concerns about the safety of Israeli captives taken during the incursion. This situation presents a significant challenge to a nation that has been deeply affected by past hostage crises, possibly one of the most severe in its history.