EVANSTON, Ill. — The father of freed American teen hostage Natalie Raanan said Friday she’s doing well following two weeks in captivity after she and her mother were abducted in Israel by Hamas and held in Gaza.
Uri Raanan of Illinois told The Associated Press that he spoke to his daughter Friday by telephone. “She’s doing good. She’s doing very good,” said Uri, who lives in the Chicago suburbs. “I’m in tears, and I feel very, very good.”
The 71-year-old said he saw on the news earlier Friday that an American mother and daughter would be released by Hamas, and he spent the day hoping that meant his daughter and her mother, Judith.
Knowing Natalie may be able to celebrate her 18th birthday next week at home with family and friends feels “wonderful. The best news,” Uri Raanan said.
He said he believes Natalie and Judith to be in transit to Tel Aviv to reunite with relatives, and that both will be back in the U.S. early next week.
U.S. President Joe Biden was among the many celebrating the stunning news that the Raanans had been freed.
An Israeli army spokesman said the two Americans were out of the Gaza Strip and with the Israeli military. Hamas said Friday it released them for humanitarian reasons in an agreement with the Qatari government.
First Hostages Released
They were the first hostages to be released since Hamas militants, according to Israel, abducted roughly 200 people during their Oct. 7 rampage.
“I am overjoyed that they will soon be reunited with their family, who has been wracked with fear,” Biden said in Washington. The president spoke Friday with Judith and Natalie and “relayed 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 sliver of hope” for those still being held.
Judith and Natalie Ranaan had been on a trip from their home in the Chicago suburb of Evanston to Israel to celebrate the Jewish holidays, according to family members. They were in Nahal Oz, near Gaza, on Oct. 7 for Simchat Torah, a festive Jewish holiday, when Hamas militants stormed into southern Israeli towns, killing hundreds of people and abducting others.
Their 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 has said.
“The news that Judith and Natalie have been released from the hands of Hamas is overwhelming. It brings us a tremendous amount of gratitude to the Almighty, to God, for this incredible miracle,” Meir Hecht, Judith Raanan’s rabbi, said at a press conference outside his home in Evanston on Friday afternoon.
“At the same time we hold our pain very deep,” said Hecht, who called for the other hostages to be released as soon as possible. “We need to continue besieging whoever we can and however we can, and praying for their release.”
Judith came regularly to Meir’s congregation and felt like “part of our family,” the rabbi said.
Natalie Raanan loves art, makeup, fashion, and DoorDash — “she hates eating at home,” according to her brother Ben, who is based in Denver. She graduated from high school this year and was deciding between going to college to study interior or fashion design and taking an apprenticeship with a tattoo shop.
Ben Raanan described Natalie as “just a very loving, kind person.” Their middle brother, Adam, is nonverbal and much older than she is, but Natalie makes it a priority to maintain a strong bond with him, he explained.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth expressed relief at news of the Raanans’ release while asking people to remember other families whose relatives were abducted.
“They are now safe and receiving necessary medical treatment,” Pritzker said of Natalie and Judith. “I cannot wait to welcome them back home after demonstrating immense strength and bravery in the face of unthinkable terror.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said the release of the two Americans is “a very good result” and expressed hope it could help pave the way for others to be freed, including French-Israelis feared held in Gaza.
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.
The release comes amid growing expectations of a ground offensive that Israel says is aimed at rooting out Hamas militants who rule Gaza.