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'It's a miracle.' Evanston mom and daughter held hostage by Hamas released after almost two weeks

Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter Natalie, 17.
Photo provided to the Chicago Sun-Times
Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter Natalie, 17.

Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter Natalie Raanan, 17, had been held hostage since Oct. 7 after Hamas attacked Israel.

The Evanston mother and daughter held hostage by Hamas have been released almost two weeks after their capture during a trip to Israel, ending what President Joe Biden called the “terrible ordeal” they and their family had endured.

Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter Natalie Raanan, 17, were handed over to the Red Cross, Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein said Friday, citing sources in Israel.

“Why they chose these two I do not know, but it’s a miracle,” said Klein, executive director of Chabad of Evanston where Judith Raanan attends.

“The fact that they’re being released is unbelievable. Our prayers worked. While it’s a huge relief, there are still hundreds of other hostages who also need to be released,” Klein said.

Their condition was not immediately reported. Hamas decided to release the two for “humanitarian reasons,” he said. The Palestinian militant group said in a statement that it released the pair in an agreement reached with Qatari officials.

Maj. Doron Spielman, spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces, told CNN the Raanans were undergoing medical checks. “They have been through a harrowing ordeal.

“We’re making sure they’re as well as possible,” Spielman said, “and pretty soon they’ll be back with their families. Which in the darkness we’ve experienced, is a little bit of light.”

U.S. State Department officials were expected to release details at a Friday afternoon news conference. A spokesman for Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., whose district includes Evanston, said the State Department notified Schakowsky that the women were released to the Red Cross.

“Today, we have secured the release of two Americans taken hostage by Hamas during the horrific terrorist assault against Israel on October 7,” said Biden in a statement. “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.”

The north suburban mother and daughter are the first hostages released from among 203 people that Israeli military leaders have said were held by Hamas.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a statement that he was “incredibly relieved that Natalie and Judith Raanan of Evanston have been released from captivity in Gaza.

“After being held against their will for nearly two weeks, they are now safe and receiving necessary medical treatment. I cannot wait to welcome them back home after demonstrating immense strength and bravery in the face of unthinkable terror,” Pritzker said. “We must continue to advocate and pray for the safe return of those still held by Hamas.”

The Raanans had been missing since Oct. 7 when a surprise attack by Hamas near the border of Gaza sparked a war that has claimed thousands of Palestinian and Israeli lives.

Spielman said that at 6:30 a.m. local time, Hamas gunmen “broke into the home and dragged them out at gunpoint. They’ve been through God knows what over the last two weeks.

Last week, a family member confirmed that the two were alive and among the hostages taken by Hamas. Their family met with Biden and State Department officials on Oct. 13 who confirmed the news, Avi Zamir, the husband of Natalie Raanan’s aunt, told the Sun-Times.

Judith Raanan works as an aesthetician. Natalie Raanan graduated from Deerfield High School last spring.

The two were in Israel to visit Judith’s mother and Natalie’s grandmother to celebrate her 85th birthday and Simchat Torah, the Jewish holiday marking the conclusion of the annual cycle of Torah readings. They were staying in Nahal Oz, a kibbutz near the Gaza border.

Zamir said he and his wife, Sigal Zamir, last spoke with Natalie after the bombs started falling.

Contributing: Associated Press