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

The captives were abducted by Hamas during the militant group's Oct. 7 attack.

ByBill Hutchinson, Will Gretsky, and Patricio Chile ABCNews logo
Saturday, October 21, 2023
Hamas releases hostages Judith and Natalie Raanan of Evanston
Hamas release 2 American hostages Friday, Judith and Natalie Raanan, a mother and daughter from Evanston.

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

The Israeli Defense Forces confirmed to ABC News that two American women were released by Hamas to the Red Cross and are now back in Israel.

The first image of hostages Natalie Raanan and Judith Raanan of Evanston, Ill., escorted by Israeli hostage negotiator Gal Hirsch, middle, in Israel after being released by Hamas.
The first image of hostages Natalie Raanan and Judith Raanan of Evanston, Ill., escorted by Israeli hostage negotiator Gal Hirsch, middle, in Israel after being released by Hamas.
Courtesy of the Israeli PM Office

The hostages were identified as Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter, Natalie Raanan, 17, the IDF said. Their conditions were not immediately clear.

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

Raanan Family

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.

Biden spoke with the mother and daughter Friday evening by phone. The White House released a photo of the president on the call.

"I let them know that their government will fully support them as they recover and heal," Biden said.

Earlier Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement 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."

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.

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

MORE | Israel-Hamas war: 199 hostages taken by Hamas, IDF kills head of Hamas general intelligence

Pro-Israel supporters gather to demand the immediate release of all hostages held by Hamas during a demonstration at Times Square on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, in New York.
(AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

Hamas took captives during its Oct. 7 rampage through numerous areas of the border fence separating Gaza from Israel. Hamas militants fired thousands of rockets and indiscriminately gunned down soldiers and civilians caught off guard by the early morning rampage.

Many of the hostages were young Israelis who were snatched at an all-night music festival celebrating the end of the Sukkot Jewish holiday. Video that emerged from the festival appeared to show militants driving the captives back into Gaza as many of them screamed for help. The militants killed 260 festivalgoers, according to Israeli rescue service Zaka.

MORE | Mom of 2 believed to have been abducted from Israeli music festival, family says

A mother of two was in South Israel celebrating her 40th birthday when she and others came under attack from Hamas militants Saturday morning.

Other captives, including infants and the elderly, were taken when Hamas militants invaded small border towns and kibbutzim, going door-to-door in communities slaughtering victims, including entire families, Israeli and U.S. officials said.

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."

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.

MORE | Israel-Hamas war: 32 Americans dead, 11 unaccounted for, State Department says

Efforts by the Israeli military to locate the hostages had proven a difficult task, given the belief Hamas has been holding the captives in a maze of tunnels running under the densely populated Gaza Strip.

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."

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.

"We have special forces, regular infantry, artillery, tanks, armored divisions and battalions that are operating in that area, in the peripheral areas, conducting raids," Lerner said at the time.

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.

Flowers are shown at the edge of a reflecting pool before the start of a rally in support of Israel, at the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach, Oct. 10, 2023, in Miami Beach, Fla.
(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

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.

MORE | Israeli-American teen sees parents die during Hamas attack: 'My mom died on top of me'

An Israeli-American teenager says both of his parents were killed in front of him when Hamas militants broke into the family's kibbutz and sprayed bullets through the windows.

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.

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 the video, Schem was seen prone on an upholstered chair with a flowery blanket covering her body as someone in a white coat and wearing latex gloves wrapped gauze around her injured right arm that appeared to have stitches and a metal brace along her bicep.

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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