In a surprise move late Friday night, Hamas released two of the more than 200 hostages held in Gaza since October 7. The hostages, Judith (59) and Natalie Raanan (17), a mother and daughter from Chicago, are Israeli-American citizens. They were handed over to the Red Cross and then transferred to the US Embassy in Jerusalem. In an official statement, Hamas claimed that the sudden release of two hostages was spurred by “humanitarian reasons”.
In an interview with Israeli media, Natalie’s father Uri Raanan said his daughter felt fine, and that no harm was done to her while she was held hostage.” She is happy to be back home, and I hope she will be able to celebrate her birthday next week in Chicago,” he said.
Judith and Natalie Raanan arrived in Israel a month and a half ago to celebrate the 85th birthday of Judith’s mother Tamar Levitan in the southern kibbutz of Nahal Oz. On the morning of October 7, the kibbutz was attacked by Hamas and the two women were among those taken hostage.
The release of the two hostages has raised hope that more will be freed by Hamas. This raises questions about the expected Israeli ground invasion of Gaza.
“This is a situation we have never seen before. Many Israelis are asking the army to delay the ground offensive in order to prioritize the release of the many hostages. I think that is the right thing to do,” said Eran Etzion, former head of policy planning at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an interview with Channel 12.
On Friday a journalist asked US President Joe Biden whether Israel should delay its ground invasion of Gaza until more hostages are released.
“Yes,” the President replied, but later White House spokesperson Ben LaBolt stated that Biden did not fully hear the question due to noise from the engines of Air Force One and that the President thought he was replying to whether he would like to see more hostages freed.
Israeli Army Spokesperson Daniel Hagari countered Hamas’ claim that the two hostages were freed because of humanitarian reasons.
“Hamas is presenting itself to the world as one that releases hostages for humanitarian reasons, but in reality, we are talking about a murderous terror group, which at this hour is holding babies, children, women, and elderly captive,” he stated. He also hinted that the fighting would take many more weeks.
In an effort at brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, representatives from a long list of countries will meet in Egyptian capital Cairo on Saturday. On Friday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced that he had invited top officials from Europe, Qatar and Turkey to take part in the peace summit. No breakthrough is expected from the summit because major players of the latest crisis are not taking part. Israel, the US, Hamas or for that matter, Iran, are all absent as the leaders meet in Cairo.
In an interview to Politico, veteran Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt expressed skepticism over the Cairo summit.
“They are non-players,” he said about the countries taking part.”They don’t have any influence.”
Mass protests were held on Friday in support of Hamas and Gaza in Cairo. At some point the protests even spread to Tahrir Square, where protests in 2011 overthrew former President Hosni Mubarak.
Both Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II have serious security concerns about the war in Gaza, especially regarding the possible displacement of the Gazan population. Both leaders have strongly rejected the idea of letting Palestinian refugees into Jordan and Egypt. “No refugees in Jordan, no refugees in Egypt,” the Jordanian monarch said Wednesday.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also warned that an attempt to push Gazans into Egypt would wreck peace in the region.
Gazans are still waiting for aid trucks to pass into Gaza from Egypt. Trucks on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border are ready to move into Gaza, but so far, there’s no green signal.
Israel had on Wednesday accepted Biden’s request to allow some humanitarian aid to be delivered. But as of late Friday night, no aid trucks had passed the border.
According to Palestinian Red Crescent, Israel has issued an evacuation order for the al-Quds Hospital in Gaza city. The hospital is currently treating approximately 400 patients, and thousands of internally displaced people are staying at the hospital or its close vicinity, according to The Red Crescent.
The Israeli Army denies any new evacuation order and argues that the first order given a week ago to the population of north Gaza is still valid.
According to Euro-Med Monitor, at least 4,079 Palestinians have been killed since October 7. Among the dead are 1,413 children and 806 women. More than 15,000 Palestinians have been injured. Some 1,400 Israelis were killed in the Hamas terror attack on Israeli villages on October 7. The Israeli medical team of first responders on Friday announced that they are still recovering bodies of those killed in the deadly attack.
All of Friday, attacks continued on Israel’s northern border to Lebanon. The Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah militia claimed responsibility for the attacks that included at least 30 rockets and several anti-tank missiles.
The Israel Defense Force said it carried out airstrikes against a number of Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon in response.
In a previously unseen development, the Iran-backed Yemenite Houthi movement is believed to have fired multiple missiles in the direction of Israel late Thursday.
The USS Carney, a US Navy-guided missile destroyer in the northern Red Sea, shot down the missiles and drones launched by Houthis in Yemen, the Pentagon stated.