Hamas has released two US nationals who were being held hostage in Gaza, in the first such show of mercy since the terror group’s brutal surprise attack on Israel nearly two weeks ago.
The Daily Mail understands the names of the hostages are Judith Raanan and Natalie Raanan, a mother and daughter from Chicago who were visiting Israel for a relative’s birthday when they were kidnapped.
The two women have left Gaza and entered Egypt under the guidance of the Israeli branch of the Red Cross, Israeli state-run media outlet KAN 11 reported.
Hamas armed wing spokesman Abu Ubaida issued a statement announcing the release on Friday, almost two weeks after the militant group took around 200 hostages during an October 7 attack that killed 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians.
An Israeli source independently confirmed the hostage release to the Daily Mail.
Hamas hostages Judith Raanan and Natalie Raanan, a mother and daughter from Chicago, have been released by the terror group, the Daily Mail understands
A senior US official was unable to immediately comment, but told DailyMail.com that the State Department planned to release further information in a briefing with reporters later on Friday.
Earlier this week, Martin Fletcher, one of MSNBC’s long-term Middle East correspondents broke down on air while revealing the hostages Judith and Natalie Raanan are members of his wife’s family.
‘They were last seen, their hands tied, being dragged away by the Hamas terrorists. So it’s personal, it’s real, and nobody is really confident that it’s possible to get them back alive. Of course, everybody’s hoping,’ Fletcher told Stephanie Ruhle on Thursday.
Through tears, Fletcher said: ‘Hamas is using the hostages for psychological warfare.’ He described the conflict as a ‘very personal thing.’
‘Nobody is really confident that it’s possible to get them back alive,’ he somberly added.
Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, said the mother and daughter were released ‘for humanitarian reasons’ in response to Qatari mediation efforts.
In a blustering statement, Abu Ubaida said the move would ‘prove to the American people and the world that the claims made by (President Joe) Biden and his fascist administration are false and baseless.’
Israel responded to the Hamas massacre and hostage crisis by pounding Gaza with air strikes, killing more than 4,000 people according to Hamas, and has said it will act to free the hostages while wiping out the terror group.
Seventeen-year-old Natalie (above) and her mother were visiting family in Israel for the Jewish holidays and a relative’s 85th birthday
Israelis, whose close ones were taken hostage during a Hamas attack, demonstrate during a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Israeli leaders earlier this week
Israeli tanks and troops are amassed near the perimeter of the enclave for an expected ground invasion, calling on Palestinians to evacuate the north of Gaza, where it says Hamas is dug in.
Israel has also said that there will be no end to its full blockade of the enclave unless Israeli hostages are freed.
Hamas says it has some 200 hostages and that 50 more are held by other armed groups in the enclave.
The group claimed more than 20 hostages have been killed by Israeli air strikes, but has not given any further details.
Mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Raanan were visiting Israel from Chicago when they were abducted
Natalie Raanan is a typical 17-year-old: she loves art, makeup, fashion, and DoorDash — ‘she hates eating at home,’ said her brother, Ben Raanan, told The Associated Press this week.
She graduated from high school in the Chicago suburbs this year, and has a birthday coming up, according to her brother, who is 34 and based in Denver.
Before she left on a trip to Israel to celebrate her grandmother’s 85th birthday and the Jewish holidays with her mother, Judith Raanan, the teen was deciding between going to college to study interior or fashion design and taking an apprenticeship with a tattoo shop.
The pair had been sending updates as the trip progressed and were enjoying ‘this really special mom and daughter time together,’ said their rabbi, Meir Hecht.
But the family hadn’t heard from either mother or daughter since Hamas launched an unprecedented surprise attack.
Natalie Raanan was visiting family for the High Holidays with her mother, Judith, when the assault began on October 7
Judith Raanan was also taken hostage along with her daughter. Their family in Illinois has not heard from them since Saturday
Natalie is ‘just a very loving, kind person,’ said her older brother, Ben Raanan. Their middle brother, Adam, is nonverbal and much older than she is, but Natalie makes it a priority to maintain a strong bond with him, he explained.
The family has been in touch with both U.S. and Israeli government officials, who confirmed Natalie and Judith are alive and being held hostage by Hamas, according to Ben Raanan.
‘This whole situation is surreal,’ he said. ‘We are a very peaceful family. We do not advocate at all for any violence to be done to anyone in this world.’
Judith Raanan is very active in her faith community, Chabad of Evanston, said her friend and the rabbi’s wife, Yehudis Hecht.
Judith came to Shabbat almost every week, helped prepare the Kiddush lunch, and just before she left for Israel, dropped off a pink prayer book for the Hechts’ seven-year-old daughter, who loves the color, said Yehudis Hecht.
A few dozen community members gathered to pray for the Raanans’ safe return in the days after the Hamas attack.
‘Judith, we’re thinking of you. Of your resilience, your hope, your love, your generosity, your faith and your strength. We know you’re a strong woman and we pray that we see you safely very soon with your dear Natalie,’ Yehudis Hecht said at the event.
Developing story, more to follow.