Natalie and Judith Raanan: They are the first hostages that Hamas releases. It's not just the family who is relieved

It is dark as armed soldiers escort two women across the border from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

Natalie and Judith Raanan: They are the first hostages that Hamas releases. It's not just the family who is relieved

It is dark as armed soldiers escort two women across the border from the Gaza Strip into Israel. They are Judith Tai Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter Natalie Shoshana Raanan. The two women had traveled to Israel for a birthday party. Then Hamas invaded the country, killing more than 100 people and abducting more. The mother and her child were also kidnapped by Hamas armed forces from their kibbutz Nahal Os to the Gaza Strip early in the morning on October 7th, an Israeli military spokesman reports.

After that, the family in the United States heard nothing more from the two women, Natalie's brother told the Associated Press (AP) news agency. US and Israeli authorities only told them that the two were being held in Gaza.

Judith and Natalie live with their family in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago. Nathalie was born in the USA but moved to Israel with her mother. She therefore has both citizenships. She returned at the age of 10, her father Uri Ranaan tells AP. Natalie "always talked about her homeland," added her stepsister, who is two years older, referring to Israel. "She missed it very, very much. Every day she missed her grandmother, she missed her home. Just the feeling of being there. I bet that hurts her a lot."

Mother and daughter recently traveled to Israel to celebrate their grandmother's birthday. Then came Hamas. The militant terrorist organization is said to have kidnapped almost 200 people in the bloody attack in the Gaza Strip - among them not just Israelis, but people from different nations, most of them with dual citizenship (you can read more about the missing people here).

The Foreign Office speaks of eight Germans abducted. The US is missing at least ten people whose fate is unknown. However, it can be assumed that some are in the control of Hamas. Israel blocked the Gaza Strip in response to the attack and hostage-taking. Aid supplies would only reach the civilians there if Hamas let all the hostages go.

Judith Tai Raanan and Natalie Shoshana Raanan are the first and only ones allowed to go so far. Hamas cited "Qatar's efforts" and "humanitarian reasons" and released a video of the hostage handover.

Israel's person responsible for the abducted and missing persons, Brigadier General Gal Hirsch, received Nathalie and Judith at the border with the Gaza Strip, photos from Israeli authorities show. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office confirmed the release, but not without criticizing its opponents in Gaza: "Hamas presents itself to the world as if it had returned the women it took hostage for humanitarian reasons, while the "Hamas is actually a murderous terrorist organization that is currently holding infants, children, women and the elderly hostage in the Gaza Strip and continues to commit crimes against humanity."

US President Joe Biden was “overjoyed” that the two women were released. “Our fellow citizens have endured a terrible ordeal over the past 14 days, and I am overjoyed that they will soon be reunited with their families,” Biden said. He thanked Qatar and Israel for their "partnership" and said the U.S. would not relent until all other nationals still held hostage by Hamas were home.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also expressed relief, but also pointed out the remaining fates. "We know that some of them are being held hostage by Hamas, along with an estimated 200 other hostages being held in Gaza." Every single one of them must be released, Blinken demanded, and assured that the US government was working tirelessly to bring the remaining kidnapped Americans home.

Judith and Nathalie are now being medically examined and cared for, an Israeli military spokesman told US broadcaster CNN. Both will then be reunited with their relatives at a military base in central Israel.

What matters most to the family is that the two of them are free and alive. "I'm in tears, but I feel very, very good," said Uri Raanan, father of the two former Hamas hostages. On Friday he saw on the news that an American mother and her daughter were being released by Hamas. He was hoping it would be Judith and Natalie.

He had already spoken to his daughter on the phone. "She's doing well, in fact she's doing very well." He said at a news conference that his wife Judith was uninjured apart from a small "scratch" on her hand. Both looked and sounded good. The fact that his daughter will be able to celebrate her upcoming 18th birthday with the family is "wonderful. That's the best news"

Sources: Associated Press, with material from DPA and AFP