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‘Intense amount of relief’: Denver relative of released Hamas hostages speaks out

President Biden sends welcome home message to mother, daughter after their return to Israel from captivity in Gaza Strip
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Posted at 10:21 PM, Oct 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-21 13:14:38-04

DENVER — A Denver man is breathing a little easier after learning his half-sister and stepmother were released by Hamas Friday.

Judith Raanan, 59, and Natalie Raanan, 17, have dual Israeli-American citizenship. The two had traveled from their home in the Chicago suburb of Evanston to Israel to celebrate Judith's mothers birthdays and the Jewish holidays, according to the Associated Press.

The AP said the two were in Nahal Oz, near the Gaza border, when Hamas militants invaded Israel on Oct. 7 and took 200 hostages, including the mother and daughter.

Judith and Natalie were released Friday, and are the first hostages to be released by Hamas. The International Committee of the Red Cross transported the two back to Tel Aviv, and they will arrive in the U.S. sometime next week.

“There's an intense amount of relief,” said Ben Raanan, Natalie's half-brother.

Ben learned of his family members' release Friday morning from the media.

"When we heard the news, and we saw the picture of them being released, suddenly there was this overwhelming sense of emotion that we had been building in our stomachs for the past two weeks,” he said.

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In this photo provided by the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Judith Raanan, right, and her 17-year-old daughter Natalie are shown after their return to Israel from captivity in the Gaza Strip, in an unidentified location Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. Hamas released the pair in what it said was a goodwill gesture late Friday, nearly two weeks after they were captured in a bloody cross-border raid by the Islamic militant group.

Ben said his father was able to briefly talk to Natalie on the phone.

"We were both shocked at how composed she was. It's actually a little annoying. I look at the picture, and she's captured for two weeks and still looks like a supermodel. Meanwhile, I’m still losing my hair after being in America for two weeks,” said Ben.

These past two weeks have been filled with worry and fear for the Raanan family.

“It was a surreal experience,” said Ben. "We aren't political. We very much believe in the sanctity of life.”

The family is ready and eager to care for the Judith and Natalie as soon as they are back on American soil.

"We are pleased that we can go on this journey of healing with them and support them,” said Ben.

The family hopes the mother and daughter will be back in Chicago in time for Natalie's 18th birthday Tuesday.

"We're hoping that she can be home in her own bed with family at that point,” said Ben.

President Joe Biden welcomed home Judith and Natalie in a tweet sent Saturday morning, saying, "I'm so glad you're coming home."

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