Hamas released two American hostages on Friday, citing “humanitarian reasons” in a statement. The releases came almost two weeks after its devastating rampage through southern Israel killed more than 1,400 people and resulted in some 200 more being taken back to the Gaza Strip as hostages.
The Israeli prime minister’s office identified the two as Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter Natalie Raanan, 17. They were kidnapped during the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks from Kibbutz Nahal Oz.
The women were released to the International Committee of the Red Cross and then handed over to the Israel Defense Forces, who took them to be reunited with family at an Israeli military base, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“Israel, the I.D.F. and the entire security establishment will continue to operate with the best of their abilities and efforts in order to locate all of the missing and return all of the abductees home,” the statement said.
The U.S. government has said that at least 11 other Americans remained unaccounted for after the Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7, but it was not clear how many were being held hostage.
President Biden said on Friday that the United States had worked with Qatar to secure the release of Judith and Natalie Raanan. He asked the public to respect their privacy “as they recover and heal.”
“We will not stop until we get their loved ones home,” Mr. Biden said. “I have no higher priority than the safety of Americans held hostage around the world.”
Ms. Raanan and her daughter went to Israel last month to celebrate the Jewish holidays and the 85th birthday of Judith’s mother at a kibbutz in the south of the country.
Judith Raanan spent her early life in Israel before settling in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Ill., where she raised a family. Natalie Raanan graduated from a public high school in Deerfield, Ill.
On Friday, Rivka Benyihoun, another friend from Chicago, said she and her husband had been watching Israeli television for news of their friend.
“We are all embracing and crying together,” Ms. Benyihoun said. “I told my husband, ‘She’s a survivor. She’s going to make it.’”
In a statement, Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois said he was “incredibly relieved” that the Raanans were safe.
“I cannot wait to welcome them back home after demonstrating immense strength and bravery in the face of unthinkable terror,” Mr. Pritzger said.
The situation of the more than 200 other hostages remains unclear. Israel has not publicly identified them, but military officials have said they include older people and children.
Most were captured from small Israeli towns near the border with Gaza; others were abducted from military bases or from an all-night music festival. They include civilians, soldiers, peace activists, grandparents and a 9-month-old baby. On Friday, Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, disputed Hamas’s claim that it released the Raanans for humanitarian reasons. “This is actually a murderous terrorist organization that right now holds babies, children, women, and elderly people captive in the Gaza Strip,” he said.
Hostage-taking is a tactic that Hamas has used in the past against Israel.
In 2006, the group seized an Israel soldier, Gilad Shalit, and held him in Gaza for five years. He was exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom had been convicted of killing Israelis in terrorist attacks.
The group has also been holding two Israeli civilians who entered Gaza in 2014 on foot, as well as the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed during a war that year.
Shortly after the Oct. 7 attack, Hamas released video of a woman and two small children it said it had released at the Gaza border. But the woman, Avital Aladjem, told Israeli news media that she and the children escaped shortly after crossing the border because their captors left them briefly alone. She said the children belonged to her neighbor, who was killed in the attack.
Earlier this week, Hamas released a short video of Mia Schem, 21, who was abducted during the Hamas assault on the music festival. In the video, she is shown with a bandaged arm and says that she has received medical treatment while in captivity. It is so far the only video the group has released of any of the hostages.
“At the moment I am in Gaza,” Ms. Schem says in the video, which was posted to Telegram channels affiliated with Hamas. “I just ask that I am returned as fast as possible to my family, to my parents, and to my siblings. Please get us out of here as quickly as possible.”
Aaron Boxerman and Julie Bosman contributed reporting