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Tags: hamas | hostages | qatar | middle east | peace

Hamas Releases 2 US Hostages 'for Humanitarian Reasons'

Friday, 20 October 2023 08:32 PM EDT

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

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.

In response to the release, President Joe Biden said Friday: 

"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."

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

The family had 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.

Biden spoke with the two freed hostages and their relatives. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which transported the freed Americans from Gaza to Israel, said their release was "a sliver of hope."

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

Hamas said in a statement that it was working with mediators “to close the case” of hostages if security circumstances permit. The group added that it is committed to mediation efforts by Egypt, Qatar and other countries.

Qatar said it would continue its dialogue with Israel and Hamas in hopes of winning the release of all hostages “with the ultimate aim of de-escalating the current crisis and restoring peace.”

Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Israel was continuing to work to return hostages and find the missing, and its goals had not changed. "We are continuing the war against Hamas and ready for the next stage of the war," he said.

Earlier on Friday after giving families there a half-hour warning to escape, Israel leveled a northern Gaza district and hit an Orthodox Christian church where others had been sheltering.

Israel has vowed to wipe out Hamas, which rules Gaza, relentlessly pounding the strip with airstrikes, putting the enclave's 2.3 million people under a total siege and banning shipments of food, fuel and medical supplies.

The secretary-general of the United Nations visited the crossing between the besieged Gaza Strip and Egypt, and said humanitarian aid must be allowed across as soon as possible.

At least 4,137 Palestinians have been killed, including hundreds of children, and 13,000 wounded in Gaza, the Palestinian health ministry said.

The U.N. says more than a million have been made homeless.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Friday that achieving Israel's objectives would not be quick or easy.

"We will topple the Hamas organization. We will destroy its military and governing infrastructure. It's a phase that will not be easy. It will have a price," he told a parliamentary committee.

He added that the subsequent phase would be more drawn out, but was aimed at achieving "a completely different security situation" with no threat to Israel from Gaza. "It's not a day, it's not a week, and unfortunately it's not a month," he said.

CHURCH HIT

The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the main Palestinian Christian denomination, said that overnight Israeli forces had struck the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City, where hundreds of Christians and Muslims had sought sanctuary.

It said targeting churches that were used as shelters for people fleeing bombing was "a war crime that cannot be ignored."

Video from the scene showed a wounded boy being carried from rubble at night. A civil defense worker said two people on upper floors had survived; those on lower floors had been killed and their bodies were still in the rubble.

"They felt they would be safe here. They came from under the bombardment and the destruction, and they said they would be safe here but destruction chased them," a man cried out.

Gaza's Hamas-run government media office said 18 Christian Palestinians had been killed, while the health ministry later gave a toll of 16.

The Israeli military said part of the church was damaged in a strike by fighter jets on a nearby Hamas command center involved in launching rockets and mortars towards Israel, and that it was reviewing the incident.

"The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) can unequivocally state that the church was not the target of the strike," it said.

'EVERYTHING I DREAMT OF' DESTROYED

Israel has already told all civilians to evacuate the northern half of the Gaza Strip, which includes Gaza City. Many people have yet to leave saying they fear losing everything and have nowhere safe to go with southern areas also under attack.

In Zahra, a northern Gaza town, residents said their entire district of some 25 apartment buildings was razed.

They received Israeli warning messages on their mobile phones at breakfast, followed 10 minutes later by a small drone strike. After another 20 minutes, F-16 warplanes brought the buildings down in huge explosions and clouds of dust.

"Everything I ever dreamt of and thought that I have achieved was gone. In that apartment was my dream, my memories with my children, and my wife, was the smell of safety and love," Ali, a resident of the district, told Reuters by phone.

The United Nations humanitarian affairs office said more than 140,000 homes — nearly a third of all homes in Gaza — have been damaged, with nearly 13,000 completely destroyed.

The south of the enclave has also been regularly hit. Rescue workers were combing through the wreckage of a house in the main southern city, Khan Younis, for survivors. One carried the limp body of a child.

"We don’t want to receive aid, we want the destruction and the killing of children in their sleep to stop. We are tired," said neighbor Joumana Khreis.

AID STILL HELD UP

International attention has focused on getting aid to Gaza through the one access point not controlled by Israel, the Rafah crossing to Egypt. U.S. President Joe Biden, who visited Israel on Wednesday, emerged with a promise from Israel to allow limited shipments from Egypt provided the aid is monitored to prevent any reaching Hamas.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres toured the checkpoint on Egypt's side and called for a meaningful number of trucks to enter Gaza every day and checks to be quick and pragmatic.

"We are actively engaging with all parties to make sure conditions for delivering aid are lifted," he said.

Western leaders have so far mostly offered support to Israel's campaign against Hamas, although there is mounting unease about the plight of civilians in Gaza.

Many Muslim states, however, have called for an immediate ceasefire, and protests demanding an end to the bombardment were held in cities across the Islamic world on Friday.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called on Israel to end "its operations amounting to genocide."

Biden formally asked Congress on Friday for billions of dollars in U.S. military aid for Israel. But, in a televised speech the previous day, he also said: "We can't ignore the humanity of innocent Palestinians who only want to live in peace and have opportunity."

The conflict is spreading to two other fronts.

Clashes at the border between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement have been the deadliest since a full-blown war in 2006, with Israel ordering the evacuation of more than 20,000 residents from the border town of Kiryat Shmona on Friday.

The West Bank, where Palestinians have limited self-rule under Israeli military occupation, has experienced the deadliest clashes since the second intifada uprising ended in 2005.

© 2024 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.


US
Hamas on Friday freed an American woman and her teenage daughter who had been held hostage in Gaza, Israel said, the first such release from among the roughly 200 people the militant group abducted from Israel during its Oct. 7 rampage.
hamas, hostages, qatar, middle east, peace
1488
2023-32-20
Friday, 20 October 2023 08:32 PM
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