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Hamas releases American mother and daughter held hostage after Qatari mediation By Reuters

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By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Enas Alashray

GAZA (Reuters) -Two American hostages freed on Friday by the armed wing of Hamas were identified as Chicago-area residents Judith Tai Raanan and her daughter Natalie Shoshana Raanan, who Israel said were en route to a military base in central Israel to be reunited with family.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the mother and daughter were abducted by Hamas while they were staying at Kibbutz Nahal Oz. According to Natalie Raanan’s brother, Ben Raanan in Denver, the two had been visiting Judith Raanan’s mother in celebration of her 85th birthday. The brother’s account was published by the Denver Post.

The pair were handed over to Israeli forces at the border of the Gaza Strip and were “on their way to a meeting point at a military base in the center of the country, where their family members are waiting for them,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

U.S. President Joe Biden thanked Qatar and Israel for their partnership in securing the release of the two women.

Media reports in the United States said they were from Evanston, an Illinois suburb of Chicago.

Hamas has said it took about 200 hostages during a deadly Oct. 7 rampage carried out from the Gaza Strip on communities and military bases in southern Israel, part of the bloodiest attack on the country since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

The Iranian-backed militia has said 50 more captives are held by other armed groups in the coastal Palestinian enclave. It said more than 20 hostages have been killed by Israeli air strikes, but has not given any further details.

Israelis are still reeling from the Hamas assault and from images of fellow citizens being bundled off to Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas.

ISRAELI OPTIONS HAMPERED

But Netanyahu’s options for striking back at Hamas are certain to be hampered by concern for the safety of the Israeli captives seized in the raid, as a nation scarred by past hostage crises faces perhaps its worst one yet.

Netanyahu has vowed “mighty vengeance,” but the fate of the Israeli soldiers, elderly people, women and children taken into Gaza complicates how Israel delivers on that promise while abiding by a longstanding principle of leaving no one behind.

An attempt to rescue all those Hamas said were now held in different locations could jeopardise their lives. Yet, protracted negotiations with Hamas over a prisoner swap would be a huge win for an arch foe of Israel.

For Netanyahu, securing the freedom of hostages comes with painful personal memories. In 1976, his older brother was killed rescuing hostages at Entebbe airport in Uganda, an action the younger Netanyahu said shaped his future life.

Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu led an assault team of 29 commandos who stormed the airport terminal to rescue Israelis and others from an Air France flight that had been diverted to Uganda by Palestinian and German hijackers.

American and British officials said they have been working with Qatar to secure the release of hostages, including their citizens, held in Gaza.

Other countries that have said their citizens are being held include Thailand, Argentina, Germany, France and Portugal.

A spokesman for Hamas’ Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, Abu Ubaida, said Hamas released the two U.S. 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.”

Israel responded to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas gunmen, which killed 1,400 Israelis, by pounding Gaza with air strikes, killing more than 4,000 people, and has said it will act to free the hostages while wiping out Hamas.

Israel has amassed tanks and troops near the border of the enclave for an expected ground invasion, calling on Palestinians to evacuate the north of Gaza, where it says Hamas is dug in.

Israel has also said that there will be no end to its full blockade of the enclave unless Israeli hostages are freed.

Hamas’ armed wing said on Oct. 16 that kidnapped non-Israelis were “guests” who would be released “when circumstances on the ground allow.”

Hamas has released a video of Mia Schem, a 21-year-old French-Israeli woman captured at a dance party. In the video, she was shown in an unknown location being treated for an injury to her arm by an unidentified medical worker.

Hamas has suggested the hostages could be swapped for 6,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, but Israel is unlikely to agree to that while it is on a war footing.

In 2011, Israel swapped hundreds of Palestinian prisoners to win the release of one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was held for five years.

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