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Hamas's military wing on Friday released two US hostages who were being held in Gaza, following mediation efforts by Qatar, marking the first time abductees have been released since the militant group seized about 200 people during its October 7 attack on Israel.
Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter Natalie Raanan, 17, from Chicago, were released at the border of the Gaza Strip, Israel's co-ordinator on hostages and missing persons, Gal Hirsch, said in a statement published by the Israeli Prime Minister's Office.
“At this moment they are on their way to a meeting point at a military base in the centre of the country, where their family members are waiting for them,” the statement said.
The Israeli army published a photo of the two in Israeli custody after Hamas handed them over to the International Red Cross at the border of the Gaza Strip.
President Joe Biden said the US had been working “round-the-clock” to free Americans and he welcomed the first releases.
“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,” Mr Biden said.
“These individuals and their family will have the full support of the United States government as they recover and heal,” he added, also thanking the Qatari and Israeli governments for their work on the case.
The US embassy in Israel posted a photo of the two speaking with Mr Biden by mobile phone.
“We are so grateful that they are safe,” the embassy said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
The White House said Mr Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about the hostage issue. The US president also underscored the “importance of operating consistent with the law of war to include the protection of civilians in Gaza”.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a team from the US embassy in Israel would meet the women to address any issues.
“Over the coming hours, they'll receive any support and assistance they need” Mr Blinken said.
“And of course, we're very anxious to be able to reunite them with their loved ones.”
He said 10 US citizens remain unaccounted for during the conflict, and that the US has information that at least some of them are being held hostage by Hamas.
“Every single one should be released,” Mr Blinken said.
Earlier, Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Ubaida said that a mother and daughter had been freed.
“In response to Qatari efforts, Al Qassam Brigades released two American citizens for humanitarian reasons, and to prove to the American people and the world that the claims made by [President Joe] Biden and his fascist administration are false and baseless,” he said.
Hamas seized about 200 hostages when its militants attacked Israel on October 7.
The Raanans had been visiting Israel to celebrate a relative's 85th birthday, the Times of Israel reported. Israeli authorities said they were taken hostage while staying at the Kibbutz Nahal Oz, where more than 100 people were murdered.
The government of Israel, armed forces and the entire security establishment would continue to operate with the best of their abilities and efforts to find all of the missing and return all of them home, the Israeli statement read.
The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, a campaign group, welcomed the news.
“The families headquarters congratulates the release of hostages from Hamas captivity,” it said.
US House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Mike McCaul on Friday said he was “relieved” to hear about Hamas' release of two Americans.
Shortly before Friday's release, Bloomberg reported the US and European governments had put pressure on Israel to delay its ground invasion of Gaza, to buy time for talks, mediated by Qatar, to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas.
The negotiations with Hamas were delicate, Bloomberg reported, quoting sources.