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2 Americans taken hostage by Hamas during the attack on Israel are freed

In this undated photo provided by Rabbi Meir Hecht on behalf of the Raanan family is Judith Raanan, left, and her daughter Natalie, 17, after Natalie's recent high school graduation. On Friday, Israel announced the two American women held by Hamas militants were released.
AP
In this undated photo provided by Rabbi Meir Hecht on behalf of the Raanan family is Judith Raanan, left, and her daughter Natalie, 17, after Natalie's recent high school graduation. On Friday, Israel announced the two American women held by Hamas militants were released.

Updated October 21, 2023 at 9:39 PM ET

JERUSALEM — Two American hostages who were captured by the militant group Hamas during its attack on Israel this month have been released, the Israeli prime minister's office announced Friday.

Judith Raanan, 59, and Natalie Raanan, 17, a mother and daughter from Illinois, had been visiting family in Israel when they were abducted by Hamas on Oct. 7, according to news interviews given by family members.

"Our fellow citizens have endured a terrible ordeal these past 14 days, and I am overjoyed that they will soon be reunited with their family, who has been wracked with fear," said President Biden in a statement.

The two spoke by phone with Biden in a video released by the White House on Saturday, where they said they are in good health.

The elder Raanan, also known by her Hebrew name, Yehudit, is an operating room nurse. Her daughter recently graduated from high school and was taking a gap year to travel, according to Saray Cohen, Raanan's sister, who spoke with the Israeli public broadcaster Kan.

The pair's exit from Gaza was facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the two were received by the Israeli military at the border of the Gaza Strip, according to the prime minister's office. "At the moment, they are on their way to a meeting point at a military base in the center of their country, where their family members are waiting for them," the statement said.

Speaking to reporters from the State Department, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that two Americans are with Israeli authorities in Israel and that a team from the U.S. Embassy would meet with them soon. Blinken added that he did not yet have details about the conditions of the mother and daughter.

"Over the coming hours, they'll receive any support and assistance they need, and of course, we are very anxious to be able to reunite them with their loved ones," Blinken said.

The mother and daughter had traveled to Israel together to celebrate Judith Raanan's mother's 85th birthday, Cohen said in the Kan video, which was posted earlier Friday. "We have no idea whatsoever what is their situation, where they're being held. We just want them to come back to us," she added.

The Raanans were staying in a guesthouse in southern Israel on Oct. 7 when Hamas militants flooded across the Gaza border and into Israeli communities nearby. More than 1,400 people died in the attack, including hundreds of people killed in their homes and at a music festival, Israeli officials say.

Among the towns attacked was Nahal Oz, a quiet, small kibbutz just half a mile from the border with Gaza. Family members had been in contact with the Raanans, who were in Nahal Oz, even as the fighting began that morning, according to Cohen. For hours, they received updates via WhatsApp from the two, who were hiding in a safe room, according to relatives.

Sigal Zamir cries as she speaks at a prayer vigil for Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie on Thursday in Evanston, Ill. Sigal is the sister of Natalie's father, Uri.
Charles Rex Arbogast / AP
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AP
Sigal Zamir cries as she speaks at a prayer vigil for Judith Raanan and her daughter, Natalie Raanan, on Oct. 12 in Evanston, Illinois. Zamir is the sister of Natalie's father, Uri Raanan.

But the messages stopped soon after noon, Cohen said. "After two hours or so of silence, we started to feel uneasy."

The agreement to release the Raanans was the result of negotiations among the U.S., Israel, Qatar and Hamas.

About 200 hostages are thought to remain in the hands of Hamas, including dozens of children, according to the Israeli military. Ten Americans also remain unaccounted for, according to Blinken.

"We have not ceased our efforts to secure the release of those who are still being held," Biden said.

Israeli leaders have said that until all hostages are released, Israel will not lift a siege of Gaza that has cut off food, water, electricity and fuel from the territory that is home to more than 2 million Palestinians.

In a statement, Hamas said it would continue to work with mediators, such as Qatar and Egypt, to release all civilians under what it called "appropriate security conditions."

Rabbi Meir Hecht with Chabad of Evanston, Ill., right, reads from Psalms during a prayer vigil for Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie on Thursday. Judith and Natalie were released by the militant group Hamas on Friday.
Charles Rex Arbogast / AP
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AP
Rabbi Meir Hecht (right) with Chabad of Evanston reads from Psalms during a prayer vigil for Judith Raanan and her daughter, Natalie Raanan, on Oct. 12. Judith and Natalie were released by the militant group Hamas on Friday.

"The news that Judith and Natalie have been released gives us overwhelming gratitude to God that our prayers are being heard," Rabbi Meir Hecht of Chabad of Evanston, who is close to the family, told NPR.

"At the same time, we're so deeply concerned for the 200-plus other hostages that are still in the hands of Hamas terrorists, and we continue to pray, and ask everyone to pray, for their immediate release," he said.

Aya Batrawy contributed reporting in Jerusalem; Daniel Estrin and Liz Baker contributed reporting from Tel Aviv, Israel; and Deepa Shivaram contributed reporting from Washington. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan
Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.