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    US: Hamas has released two American hostages

    Judith Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter Natalie were out of the Gaza Strip and in the hands of the Israeli military, an army spokesman said.

    JERUSALEM, Israel — Hamas on Friday freed an American woman and her teenage daughter it had held hostage in Gaza, Israel said, the first such release from among the around 200 people the militant group abducted during its Oct. 7 rampage through southern Israel.

    The two Americans, Judith Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter Natalie, were out of the Gaza Strip and in the hands of the Israeli military, an army spokesman said. Hamas said it released them for humanitarian reasons in an agreement with the Qatari government.

    The release comes amid growing expectations of expected ground offensive that Israel says is aimed at rooting out Hamas militants who rule the Gaza Strip. Israel said Friday it does not plan to take long-term control over the tiny territory, home to some 2.3 million people.

    As Israeli military punished Gaza with airstrikes, authorities inched closer to bringing aid to desperate families and hospitals. Muslims around the world protested in solidarity with Palestinians nearly two weeks under Israel’s retaliation for Hamas’ brutal rampage in Israel

    Judith and Natalie Ranaan had been on a trip from their home in suburban Chicago to Israel to celebrate the Jewish holidays, family said. They were in the kibbutz of Nahal Oz, near Gaza, on Oct. 7 — Simchat Torah, a festive Jewish holiday – when Hamas fighters stormed out of the territory into southern Israeli towns, killing hundreds and abducting 203 others.

    The family heard nothing from them since the attack and were later told by U.S. and Israeli officials that they were being held in Gaza, Natalie’s brother Ben said.

    Relatives of other captives welcomed the release and appealed for the others to be freed.

    “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,’’ the statement said.

    Israeli news outlets such as the Jerusalem Post said the pair were released to the Red Cross. 

    The International Committee of the Red Cross declined to comment on the reports in response to emailed questions. 

    In a statement, President Joe Biden celebrated the release and said the White House was continuing its efforts to secure the release of other hostages. 

    Here is Biden’s full statement:

    “Today, we have secured the release of two Americans taken hostage by Hamas during the horrific terrorist assault against Israel on October 7.  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. These individuals and their family will have the full support of the United States government as they recover and heal, and we should all respect their privacy in this moment.
    From the earliest moments of this attack, we have been working around-the-clock to free American citizens who were taken hostage by Hamas, and we have not ceased our efforts to secure the release of those who are still being held.  I thank the government of Qatar and the government of Israel for their partnership in this work.  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. As president, I have no higher priority than the safety of Americans held hostage around the world.

    Hamas launched an unprecedented surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that killed hundreds, with more than 200 people taken hostage by the group. In response, Israel began launching daily airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, and has signaled that Israeli forces will put boots on the ground in Gaza to root out Hamas, which currently governs the area. 

    Fighting between Israel and militants in neighboring Lebanon also raged, prompting evacuations of Lebanese and Israeli border towns as fears of a widening conflict grew.

    Speaking to lawmakers about Israel’s long-term plans for Gaza, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant laid out a three-stage plan that seemed to suggest that Israel did not intend to reoccupy the territory it left in 2005.

    First, Israeli airstrikes and “maneuvering” — a presumed reference to a ground attack — would aim to root out Hamas. Next will come a lower intensity fight to defeat remaining pockets of resistance. And, finally, a new “security regime” will be created in Gaza along with “the removal of Israel’s responsibility for life in the Gaza Strip,” Gallant said.

    Gallant did not say who Israel expected to run Gaza if Hamas is toppled or what the new security regime would entail.


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