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Raanan hostage release

Natalie Raanan, left, Judith Raanan, far right, arrive in Israel after being released from Hamas captivity on October 20, 2023. An Israeli government hostage envoy holds their hands.

Government of Israel

First words from freed Evanston hostages: ‘Thank you so very, very much’

In the first words heard publicly from an Evanston mother and daughter since they were released Friday after enduring almost two weeks as hostages of Hamas, Judith and Natalie Raanan thanked President Joe Biden during a brief telephone call.

The White House on Saturday released an edited 53-second video clip of the pair’s conversation with the president after they were transferred to the International Committee of the Red Cross and later an Israeli military base.

“Thank you so very, very much,” Judith Raanan, 59, tells Biden in the video.

Biden, using a speakerphone in the Oval Office, then asks her daughter: “Hey, Nat, how are you? God love you.”

The 17-year-old responds: “I just wanted to say thank you for your services for Israel.”

“That’s been long serving,” Biden says. “I’m just delighted we’re able to get you out. We’ve been working on it a long time. We’re going to get them all out, God willing.”

“Yes, God willing,” Natalie replies.

The mother and daughter, who told Biden they were both in good health, became the first hostages released by Hamas since the group’s surprise attack on Israel Oct. 7 sparked a war that has left claimed thousands of Palestinian and Israeli lives.

About 200 additional hostages are in Hamas custody in Gaza, according to the U.S. State Department.

It still wasn’t clear Saturday why the Raanans were released. Authorities have said the deal was reached through officials in Qatar.

The Raanans were being evaluated at an Israeli base Saturday, officials said.

Judith Raanan, an aesthetician, and Natalie, a recent Deerfield High School graduate, had traveled to Israel to visit Judith’s mother and Natalie’s grandmother to celebrate her 85th birthday. They were also recognizing Simchat Torah, the Jewish holiday marking the conclusion of the annual cycle of Torah readings, when they were taken at gunpoint from Nahal Oz, a kibbutz near the Gaza border.

Uri Raanan, Natalie’s father and Judith’s former husband, told reporters Friday outside his Bannockburn home that he hoped the pair would be back in the Chicago area by Tuesday — Natalie’s 18th birthday.

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

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