The father of freed American hostage Natalie Raanan says she is doing well following her two weeks in captivity after she and her mother Judith were abducted in Israel by Hamas.

Uri Raanan spoke as Hamas released footage of the pair after their release. He told reporters he had spoken to his 17-year-old daughter on the phone.

“She’s doing good. She’s doing very good,” he said.

“I’m in tears, and I feel very, very good.”

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(L-R) Judith and Natalie Raanan

The 71-year-old, from Evanston, Illinois, said he saw on the news that an American mother and daughter would be released by Hamas, and he spent all Friday hoping it meant Natalie and his ex-wife Judith.

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

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“I’m going to hug her it will be the best day of my life,” he added.

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‘My daughter is very happy’

Mr Raanan said he believes Natalie and Judith, 59, are making their way to Tel Aviv to reunite with relatives, and that both will be back in the US early next week.

US President Joe Biden celebrated the news of their release.

Judith Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter Natalie speak to Joe Biden following their release. Pic: US Embassy Jerusalem
Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie speak to Joe Biden following their release. Pic: US Embassy Jerusalem

“I am overjoyed that they will soon be reunited with their family, who has been wracked with fear,” Mr Biden said in Washington.

The president also spoke with Judith and Natalie and “relayed that they will have the full support of the US government as they recover from this terrible ordeal”, the White House said.

Despite this release – Gaza hostage crisis remains the biggest in Israel’s history

Late on Friday night, somewhere along the Gaza – Israel border, Judith and Natalie Raanan were handed over by masked Hamas gunmen into the care of the International Red Cross.

In a video released by Hamas, they look exhausted and dazed. No wonder.

The two Americans were just two of an estimated 203 hostages taken by Hamas when they broke through the border fence and went on a murderous rampage exactly two weeks ago

For all the good news that last night was, this remains the biggest hostage crisis in Israel’s history.

Read more here

An Israeli army spokesman said the two Americans were out of the Gaza Strip and with the Israeli military.

Hamas said they released them for humanitarian reasons in an agreement with the Qatari government.

They were the first hostages to be released since Hamas abducted around 200 people during their rampage on 7 October.

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

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Ben Raanan, said the family was ‘completely taken by surprise’ after Hamas released Natalie and Judith Raanan

Judith and Natalie had left their home in the Chicago suburb of Evanston to travel to Israel to celebrate the Jewish holidays, according to family members.

On 7 October they were in Nahal Oz, near Gaza, for the holiday Simchat Torah, when Hamas militants stormed into southern Israeli towns, killing and abducting hundreds of people.

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Two US hostages freed by Hamas

Their family had heard nothing from them since the attack and were later told by US and Israeli officials that they were being held in Gaza, Natalie’s brother Ben Raanan told the Denver Post earlier this week.

Natalie loves art, makeup, fashion, and DoorDash – “she hates eating at home”, according to Ben, who is based in Denver, Colorado.

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.

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”.

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Mother of hostage: ‘I miss her’

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

In a statement issued late on Friday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Two of our abductees are at home. We are not giving up on the effort to return all abducted and missing people.

“At the same time, we’ll continue to fight until victory,” he added.