Israel says Hamas has freed two American hostages who had been held in Gaza since militants rampaged through southern Israel Oct. 7. The hostage release Friday came even as Israeli airstrikes continued to hit southern Gaza, an area swelled by civilians who fled there from the north on Israeli instructions.
Israel was also evacuating a sizable town near the Lebanese border in the latest sign of a potential ground invasion of Gaza that could trigger regional turmoil.
Palestinians in Gaza reported heavy airstrikes in the southern city of Khan Younis, where civilians had been told to seek safety amid Israel’s bombardment of areas closer to the Israeli border.
The U.N. secretary general is at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza trying to find a way to get badly needed aid into the enclave.
The war, which is in its 14th day on Friday, is the deadliest of five Gaza wars for both sides. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said Friday that 4,137 Palestinians have been killed and more than 13,000 others wounded.
More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, mostly in the initial attack on Oct. 7 when Hamas militants stormed into Israel. In addition, 203 people were believed captured by Hamas during the incursion and taken into Gaza, the Israeli military has said.
1. Israel says Hamas has released two U.S. hostages who had been held in Gaza for two weeks.
2. U.S. President Joe Biden meets with European leaders to assure them the U.S. can deliver wartime aid to Ukraine and Israel.
3. Israel says it wants to eradicate Hamas and other resistance fighters in Gaza Strip but doesn’t plan to take responsibility for the besieged region after the war.
4. Thousands have been displaced from Lebanese border towns.
5. Demonstrations have erupted in cities worldwide to protest the war.
Here’s what’s happening in the latest Israel-Hamas war:
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said he thinks Hamas’ initial attack on Israel was tied in part to efforts to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, an initiative that Biden was trying to bring to fruition.
“They knew that I was about to sit down with the Saudis,” the U.S. president said Friday, speaking at a fundraiser.
BAGHDAD — A group of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq said U.S. forces “must leave immediately” or their bases in Iraq and elsewhere in the region will continue to come under attack.
Militant groups have launched rocket and drone attacks in recent days against U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria, most of which were claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq. The group has said the attacks are retaliation for Washington’s support of Israel and a warning not to intervene in the Israel-Hamas war.
“These are only warning messages to them, and serious work has not yet begun,” the militias said in a statement.
The statement concluded by saying that if Israel launches a ground invasion into Gaza, “watch the border with Jordan carefully.” It did not elaborate.
CAIRO — An Egypt official said two aid-packed trucks entered the Egyptian side of the border crossing early Saturday, but that they have not passed through into the Gaza Strip.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not briefed to speak with the media.
Israel announced Wednesday that aid would be allowed into Gaza from Egypt, via the Rafah crossing, but the border into the besieged territory has remained closed. Egypt says the crossing has been damaged by Israeli air strikes.
Associated Press reporter Ashraf Sweilam in el-Arish, Egypt, contributed.
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron said the release of two Americans who were held hostage in Gaza is “a very good result” and expressed hope it could help pave the way for others to be freed, including French-Israelis.
So far, France has one confirmed hostage, 21-year-old Mia Schem, who was shown dazed and injured in a video that Hamas’ military wing released Monday.
Six other French citizens also are missing and Macron said Friday that they’re presumed to be hostages “but without certainty.”
French contacts with Israeli authorities and other contacts via Qatar “keep up our hope that we will be able to find solutions to get the maximum number of hostages out,” he said. “We are confident: the channels we have are the good ones and are useful,” he said.
Macron said he is still weighing the possibility of traveling to the Middle East but that it would be dependent on more talks with leaders in the region.
He also announced 10 million euros ($10.6 million) in additional humanitarian aid for Palestinians and said urgent aid, including medicines, will be airfreighted to Egypt.
UNITED NATIONS — A petition signed by 86 Nobel peace laureates demands that Hamas release all children taken hostage, saying holding them in captivity “constitutes a war crime, a grievous offense against humanity itself.”
The petition noted that the Geneva Convention on safeguarding civilians in war mentions children 19 times, stressing that the “current plight of the kidnapped children far exceeds any scenario envisioned by the accord.”
“Children should never be regarded as pawns in the theater of war,” it said. “It is our sacred duty to protect the innocent and shield the vulnerable.”
PARIS — French military intelligence assesses that the most probable hypothesis for the explosion at Gaza City’s al-Ahli Hospital was that it was caused by a Palestinian rocket that was carrying an explosive charge of about 5 kilograms (11 pounds) that possibly misfired.
Several rockets in the arsenal of Palestinian militant group Hamas carry explosive charges of about that weight, include an Iranian-made rocket and another that is Palestinian-made, said a senior French military intelligence official.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence assessment, cleared to do so by President Emmanuel Macron in what was described as an attempt to be transparent about the French findings.
The official said none of their intelligence points to an Israeli strike.
Associated Press writer John Leicester contributed from Paris.
CHICAGO — A man whose Chicago-area daughter and former wife were abducted by Hamas in southern Israel says he has spoken to his daughter since her release and he believes she will be home soon.
“She’s doing good. She’s doing very good,” Uri Raanan, who is based in the Chicago suburb of Bannockburn, said Friday. “I’m in tears, and I feel very, very good.”
The 71-year-old said he saw on the news Friday that Hamas was releasing an American mother and daughter, and he spent the day hoping they meant his ex-wife, Judith Raanan, and his 17-year-old daughter, Natalie, who live in Evanston.
He said he believes both are on their way to Tel Aviv to reunite with relatives before returning to the U.S., meaning Natalie will be able to celebrate her 18th birthday next week with family and friends.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Judith and Natalie Raanan are Uri Raanan’s former wife and daughter, not his daughter and granddaughter.
TEL AVIV — Israel says it continues to push for the release of civilians taken hostage by Hamas during a raid on southern Israel almost two weeks ago.
Hamas militants took more than 200 hostages during its Oct. 7 raid. Hamas released two of those hostages, a woman and her teenage daughter from the United States, on Friday.
“Two of our abducted are home,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “We are not giving up the effort to bring all of the hostages and missing people home. At the same time, we are continuing to fight until victory.”
UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is working with Egypt, Israel, the United States and others to ease an impasse that is preventing aid from entering Gaza.
The priority is to make sure humanitarian aid deliveries are sustained, “with a meaningful number of trucks approved each day to cross” from Egypt into Gaza at the Rafah crossing, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters Friday. And the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, must have sufficient fuel to distribute humanitarian aid, Haq said.
“It’s no use dropping off aid to the other side and then leaving it there because their trucks simply don’t have enough fuel to give it to the people who need it,” he said.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said he welcomes the release of the two hostages and shared in the families’ relief but noted there are many more captives, including children and elderly people.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Blinken said he and President Joe Biden had been able to speak with the families of some of the hostages during their trips to the Middle East.
“It’s impossible to adequately put into words the agony that they’re feeling,” Blinken said. “No family anywhere should have to experience this torture.”
Of the remaining hostages, he added: “The entire United States government will work every minute of every day to secure their release and bring their loved ones home.”
Blinken also thanked the Qataris for their work in securing the hostages’ release.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is celebrating the release of a Chicago-area woman and her teenage daughter who had been visiting Israel when they were taken hostage by Hamas militants Oct. 7.
The Israeli military said Judith Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter Natalie, were released to the Israeli military Friday. Hamas said the Qatari government was instrumental in securing their release.
“Our fellow citizens have endured a terrible ordeal these past 14 days, and I am overjoyed that they will soon be reunited with their family, who has been wracked with fear,” Biden said in a statement.
Thanking the governments of Qatar and Israel for their help, Biden said the White House had been “working around-the-clock” to secure the release of American hostages “and we have not ceased our efforts to secure the release of those who are still being held.”
JERUSALEM — Hamas militants on Friday freed two Americans, a mother and her teenage daughter, who had been held hostage in Gaza since militants rampaged through Israel two weeks ago, the Israeli government said.
The pair, who also hold Israeli citizenship, were the first hostages to be released. More than 200 are still being held.
The two Americans, Judith Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter Natalie, were out of the Gaza Strip and in the hands of the Israeli military, an army spokesman said. Hamas said it was releasing them in an agreement with the Qatari government for humanitarian reasons.
Judith and Natalie Ranaan had been on a trip to southern Israel from their home in suburban Chicago to celebrate a Jewish holiday, family said. They had been staying at the kibbutz of Nahal Oz, near Gaza, when Hamas fighters took them and more than 200 others hostage.
Relatives of other captives welcomed the release and appealed for others to be freed.
“We call on world leaders and the international community to exert their full power in order to act for the release of all the hostages and missing,’’ the statement said.
DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — Funeralgoers on Friday mourned the deaths of 40 people killed by air strikes in the Gaza Strip.
The dead included 22 members of two families in Deir al-Balah, and 18 displaced Palestinians who had taken shelter in a Greek Orthodox church in Gaza City.
A distraught woman screamed in anguish outside the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah. Other women sat on a curb and stroked the feet of some of the bodies laid out on the ground covered in white sheets.
The sheets were pulled back to reveal the faces of two children. Two men knelt at their heads and caressed their faces.
Outside the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City, the Orthodox patriarch swung a burner of smoldering incense as he walked around 18 bodies, including four children, killed when an airstrike toppled a church wall.
Clergy prayed and sang during the service attended by dozens in a courtyard behind the church.
This story has been corrected to show that Israel said the number of suspected captives is 203, not 206.