October 20, 2023 | Flash Brief

Hamas Releases Two American Hostages

October 20, 2023 | Flash Brief

Hamas Releases Two American Hostages

Latest Developments

Hamas released two American hostages, a mother and a daughter, on October 20. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed the development to ABC News. The Israeli prime minister’s office said the two hostages, Judith and Natalie Raanan of Illinois, are being transferred to an IDF base in central Israel. Prior to the release, the U.S. State Department said at least 13 Americans remain unaccounted for. At least 32 Americans were killed in Hamas’ October 7 attack.

Expert Analysis

“Hamas must immediately surrender and ensure the safe return of the 200 innocent civilians, including dozens of children. A surrender would save hundreds of lives on both sides of the conflict. Instead, Hamas is demanding the release of thousands of jailed terrorists. If Israel bows to Hamas’ demands, it will further incentivize more of these abhorrent tactics in the future.” — Enia Krivine, Senior Director of FDD’s Israel Program and National Security Network

“Hostages in Gaza are likely being held by a secretive division inside Hamas called the Shadow Unit. The group has held Gilad Shalit, Avira Mengistu, Hisham Sayed and other captives. Now, Hamas says it has two hundred hostages, while other groups may hold additional captives. This sparks concerns regarding the ability of the Shadow Unit to effectively care for a significant number of captives during a time of war.” — Joe Truzman, Research Analyst at FDD’s Long War Journal

Hamas Releases First Hostage Video and States Its Demands

On October 16, Hamas released a video of French-Israeli hostage Mia Schem, who stated that she was injured and is receiving treatment. She pleaded to be reunited with her family. Israel has informed the families of about 200 hostages that their loved ones are being held — women, men, approximately 30 children and young people, about 10-20 elderly people, and some who are disabled. Another 100-200 people are still missing.

Hamas is demanding that Israel release 6,000 people held in its prisons. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal stated in an October 16 interview that “the resistance has enough to exchange and release our own prisoners in Israeli jails.” According to Osama Hamdan, the Hamas envoy to Tehran, “Any talks about the Israeli soldiers have to begin with a discussion about the freedom of those Palestinians first.” Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida has said that “dozens of hostages” are hidden in “safe places and the tunnels of the resistance” — a reference to the network of underground arms-smuggling tunnels built by Hamas.

Hamas Has a History of Kidnapping for Leverage

Before the mass abductions of October 7, Hamas was already holding Israeli citizens Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed. It also has the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in 2014, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin and Staff Sergeant Oron Shaul. For years, Israel has been holding indirect talks with Hamas through Egyptian mediation for the return of the two men and the two bodies. In 2011, Israel released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, many with blood on their hands, in exchange for Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped in 2006.

The Shadow Unit: Meet the Hamas division likely holding Israeli and American hostages,” by Joe Truzman

International Law Accepts No Excuses for Murder, Hostage-Taking,” by Orde Kittrie and Natalie Ecanow


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