EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — The father of released American teen hostage Natalie Raanan said Friday that she is doing well after two weeks in captivity after she and her mother were kidnapped in Israel by Hamas and held in Gaza.

Uri Raanan of Illinois told the Associated Press that he spoke to his daughter by phone Friday. “She’s fine. She’s doing very well,” said Uri, who lives in a Chicago suburb. “I have tears in my eyes and I feel very, very good.”

The 71-year-old said he saw on the news Friday that an American mother and daughter were being released by Hamas, and he spent the day hoping that meant his daughter and her mother, Judith.

Knowing that Natalie may be able to celebrate her 18th birthday at home with family and friends next week feels “wonderful.” The best news,” said Uri Raanan.

He said he assumed Natalie and Judith were in transit to Tel Aviv to meet their relatives and that both would be back in the U.S. early next week.

US President Joe Biden was among the many who celebrated the stunning news of the Raanans’ release.

An Israeli army spokesman said the two Americans were from the Gaza Strip and were in the Israeli military. Hamas said Friday it had released them on humanitarian grounds as part of an agreement with the Qatari government.

They were the first hostages to be released since Hamas militants kidnapped about 200 people in their Oct. 7 rampage, according to Israel.

“I am overjoyed that they will soon be reunited with their fear-stricken family,” Biden said in Washington. The president spoke with Judith and Natalie on Friday and “announced that they will have the full support of the U.S. government as they recover from this terrible ordeal,” the White House said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which transported the freed Americans from Gaza to Israel, said their release offered “a spark of hope” for those still held.

According to family members, Judith and Natalie Ranaan had traveled to Israel from their home in the Chicago suburb of Evanston to celebrate the Jewish holidays. They were in Nahal Oz, near Gaza, on Oct. 7 to mark Simchat Torah, a Jewish holiday, when Hamas militants stormed into southern Israeli cities, killing hundreds of people and kidnapping others.

Her family has not heard from them since the attack and later learned from U.S. and Israeli officials that they were being held in Gaza, said Natalie’s brother Ben.

“The news that Judith and Natalie have been released from the hands of Hamas is overwhelming. It brings us tremendous gratitude to the Almighty, to God, for this incredible miracle,” said Meir Hecht, the rabbi of Judith Raanan, at a news conference outside his home in Evanston on Friday afternoon.

“At the same time, our pain is very deep,” said Hecht, who called for the other hostages to be released soon. “We must continue to lay siege to whoever we can, however we can, and pray for their release.”

Judith came regularly to Meir’s community and felt like “part of our family,” the rabbi said.

Natalie Raanan loves art, makeup, fashion and DoorDash — “she hates eating at home,” says her brother Ben, who lives in Denver. She graduated from high school this year and was faced with the decision of either going to college to study interior design or fashion design or training in a tattoo shop.

Ben Raanan described Natalie as “just a very loving, kind person.” Her middle brother Adam is non-verbal and much older than her, but Natalie makes it a point to maintain a strong bond with him, he explained.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth expressed relief at the news of the Raanans’ release and urged people to remember other families whose relatives were kidnapped.

“They are now safe and receiving the medical treatment they need,” Pritzker said of Natalie and Judith. “I can’t wait to welcome them back home after they have shown tremendous strength and bravery in the face of unimaginable terror.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said the release of the two Americans was “a very good result” and expressed hope it could help pave the way for the release of more, including feared French Israelis held in Gaza.

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

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said Israel continued to work to return hostages and find the missing and that its goals had not changed. “We continue the war against Hamas and are ready for the next phase of the war,” he said.

The release comes amid growing expectations of a ground offensive that Israel says is aimed at rooting out Hamas militants who rule Gaza.


Winder reported from Evanston. Savage reported from Chicago and Baumann from Bellingham, Washington.

Source : apnews.com

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