Hamas has released two American hostages, Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie Raanan, who were kidnapped in its attack on southern Israel.
They are the first hostages to be freed since fighters from the Palestinian group carried out a surprise attack on October 7, killing at least 1,400 people and taking about 200 others hostage.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades, freed the hostages “for humanitarian reasons” after Qatari mediation efforts, its spokesman Abu Ubaida said on Friday.
The Israeli prime minister’s office confirmed that Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie Raanan had been released and were in the country.
US President Joe Biden in a statement thanked Qatar and Israel for their partnership in securing the pair’s release.
A spokesperson for Qatar’s foreign ministry said the release of the US hostages came after “many days of continuous communication with all parties”.
Qatar hopes dialogue will lead to the “release of all civilian hostages from every nationality”, the spokesperson said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed that it contributed to the effort to free the two United States citizens.
“The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) helped facilitate this release by transporting the hostages from Gaza to Israel, underscoring the real-life impact of our role as a neutral actor between the warring parties,” the organisation said in a statement.
“The ICRC continues to call for the immediate release of all hostages. We are ready to visit the remaining hostages and to facilitate any future release following an agreement reached by the parties.
Hamas had said earlier in the day that it was releasing the two captives in response to diplomatic efforts by Qatar. The Israeli military said earlier on Friday that it believed that the majority of the captives were still alive.
Most of the 1,400 people killed in the Hamas attack were civilians, according to Israeli officials.
Israel has responded with a relentless bombardment that has killed at least 4,137 people in the Gaza Strip, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
Israel has also imposed a “complete siege” of the enclave and said it will not be lifted unless Israeli hostages are freed.
Those held include women, children, the elderly and people from other countries, which have been working for their release, along with some Israeli soldiers.