Hamas Releases Hostages, But Gaza Aid Stalled

Two American hostages; mother Judith Tai Raanan and daughter Natalie Shoshana Raanan || Photo: Collected

Two American hostages; mother Judith Tai Raanan and daughter Natalie Shoshana Raanan || Photo: Collected

Hamas released two American hostages held in Gaza on Friday, offering a "sliver of hope" to desperate families, as Israel pounded the densely-populated territory where millions are still awaiting promised aid deliveries.

The Islamist group took more than 200 people hostage when it stormed into Israel from the Gaza Strip on October 7, and killed at least 1,400 people, mostly civilians who were shot, mutilated or burnt to death on the first day of the raid, according to Israeli officials.

The fate of the hostages has been shrouded in uncertainty, so the release of mother and daughter Judith Tai Raanan and Natalie Shoshana Raanan offered a rare "sliver of hope", said Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

US President Joe Biden said he was "overjoyed" by the release, which comes days after he visited Israel to express solidarity with the wounded country and press for humanitarian aid into Gaza.

There was little progress on that front however, with trucks carrying relief the United Nations calls a "lifeline" still stuck on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing into Gaza.

There had been hope aid would begin to trickle across Friday, but Biden said he now expected movement to begin in the "next 24 to 48 hours."

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, and says around 1,500 of the group's fighters were killed in clashes before its army regained control of the area under attack on October 7.

Its military campaign has so far levelled entire city blocks in Gaza, killing 4,137 Palestinians, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Israeli troops have massed on the border with Gaza ahead of an expected ground invasion that officials have pledged will begin "soon."

But a full-blown land offensive offers a multitude of challenges, including the risk posed to hostages from Israel and around the world held by Hamas.

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