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Hamas has released two American hostages


And I'm Ari Shapiro in Tel Aviv, Israel, where there is some good news to report about the fate of two Americans who've been held hostage since the October 7 massacre. Today Hamas released a mother and daughter who'd been visiting Israel from the Chicago area. NPR's Michele Kelemen joins us from the State Department. Hey, Michele.


SHAPIRO: Tell us what American officials are saying about this case.

KELEMEN: So President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are both thanking the government of Qatar for working together with Israel on this. You know, Blinken was recently there in Qatar, and the hostage issue was high on the agenda because Qatar has a Hamas representative office there and keeps connections with the group. While President Biden didn't name the two who were released in his statement, he said they had endured what he called a terrible ordeal these past 14 days. The Israeli prime minister's office did identify the two. They are Judith and Natalie Raanan. They're a mother and teenage daughter who are, as you said, from a suburb of Chicago. And they were visiting family at a kibbutz near Israel's border with Gaza when they were taken hostage.

SHAPIRO: And yet there are still some 200 hostages being held by Hamas. And so what is the latest on the rest of them?

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that there are young children and elderly people among the hostages, and there are other foreign nationals. He says there are still 10 Americans missing, and some of them are known to be held by Hamas. A group representing all the families of the hostages issued a statement, and they are pleading with Arab states to use their influence with Hamas to get all of them out. I should also note, Ari, that the International Committee for the Red Cross played an important role here. Hamas handed over the two Americans over to the ICRC, which then took them from Gaza into Israel. The ICRC called this a sliver of hope but also called for the release of all hostages. The statement said it's essential that the warring parties maintain a, quote, "minimum of humanity" even during the worst of war. It also sent a message to Israel to allow aid into Gaza.

SHAPIRO: This week you were pinballing all over the Middle East with Secretary of State Blinken as he was frantically trying to exert some diplomatic power. Can you tell us what else the U.S. is trying to do diplomatically in this conflict?

KELEMEN: Well, one big thing is to try to get some aid into Gaza. When the president went, they announced that Israel had agreed to let 20 trucks into Gaza from the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. That still hasn't happened yet. And President Biden now says it could take another day or two before it gets in. The U.N. secretary general was at Rafah today, again appealing for humanitarian pause. He said it was heartbreaking to know that there are 2 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza with nowhere to go as Israel is poised for a ground invasion.

SHAPIRO: We've been talking, of course, about these two Americans who were released by Hamas. There are also Palestinian American citizens who are stuck in Gaza. What is the U.S. doing for them?

KELEMEN: Yeah. I mean, the situation is really desperate inside Gaza for these Americans. And the State Department had been telling them to go toward the border crossing, but they haven't been able to get out. You know, as long as this aid is held up on the Egyptian side, Palestinian Americans - and we're talking about several hundred of them and other foreign nationals - are really trapped on the Gaza side. It's one of the issues that David Satterfield is trying to resolve. He's a retired diplomat who was tapped by the Biden administration to work on this whole issue of humanitarian aid into Gaza.

SHAPIRO: NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen at the State Department. Thanks a lot.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.