Two Chicagoans Confirmed Released By Hamas, US Presses Israel To Delay Ground Invasion

Update(1431ET): Israeli media has confirmed their identities:

A senior Israeli official speaking to The Times of Israel identifies the two hostages released by Hamas as Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie [18-years old].

The pair, who both have American citizenship, have been transferred to the International Red Cross ahead of their arrival in Israel, the official says.

The two are residents of Evanston, Illinois outside of Chicago and came to Israel this month to celebrate a relative’s 85th birthday and the Jewish holiday season, according to their rabbi.

The Raanan family had been celebrating Simchat Torah in Nahal Oz, a kibbutz in Israel about a mile from the Gaza border when the Hamas onslaught began.

The agreement to free the mother and daughter reportedly came via Qatar’s mediation, which often plays such a role with Hamas.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said at least 10 more Americans remain in captivity. 

In Blinken’s briefing, he thanked Qatar:

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Update(1308ET)With Israeli infantry and tank forces states at the border, having been given the green light to enter Gaza by the Netanyahu government, there’s been a potential breakthrough related to American hostages held by Hamas. A Hamas spokesman has announced the release of two US hostages:

The spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, has said that the group has released two US captives for humanitarian reasons.

“In response to Qatari efforts, Al-Qassam Brigades released two American citizens (a mother and her daughter) for humanitarian reasons,” Abu Obaida said in a statement.

He added that the move aimed “to prove to the American people and the world that the claims made by Biden and his fascist administration are false and baseless”.

The announcement has not received immediate government confirmation from the US side. But Israeli officials appear to be confirming:

The Israeli military earlier in the day announced that it believes the majority of the some 200 hostages in Gaza are still alive. This as the defense minister also told troops massed that the border that they will soon see the Gaza Strip “from the inside”

If the hostage release is confirmed, this could be a move by Hamas to buy more time before the large Israeli ground incursion, which is likely to result in high casualties among both sides. Meanwhile, President Biden has said Friday that the first Gaza aid trucks are likely to cross into Gaza from Egypt in the ‘next 24 to 48 hours’. Washington is also leaning on Israel to see if more hostages can be negotiated for, prior to the ground assault:


* * *

Just ahead of President Biden’s Thursday night speech wherein he made the case for the US keeping up funding both for Ukraine and Israel as it launches its war in Gaza, Axios issued a report detailing that Washington is preparing to divert ammunition meant for Kiev to the Israelis

The Pentagon plans to send Israel tens of thousands of 155mm artillery shells that had been destined for Ukraine from U.S. emergency stocks several months ago, three Israeli officials with knowledge of the situation tell Axios,” journalist Barak Ravid wrote.

These 155mm artillery shells, which Ukraine has been badly in need of given Russian artillery supplies have been steady and far superior, will be shipped “in the coming weeks” instead to Israel in order to fill the depleted emergency stocks the US keeps there.

Under a long-standing bilateral agreement, the Pentagon stores ammunition on Israeli soil. While it belongs to and is overseen by the US military, part of the agreement is that Israel’s Armed Forces (IDF) can access it under US approval in a war scenario.

Starting at some point in late 2022, these emergency stockpiles of artillery shells held in Israel began being sent to Ukraine. But now, with the Gaza war entering full swing, Israel will get the extra supplies instead

This move without doubt is yet another blow to the Zelensky government, which has retreated from the media spotlight ever since the Hamas terror attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7. International press has focused on 24/7 Israel-Gaza coverage. A key part of Ukraine’s strategy of keeping up constant support, which has included tens of billions in aid flowing in from the West, has been to keep Zelensky and the Ukrainian cause center stage in terms of global awareness. Now those days appear over.

Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder sought to defend the move, stressing “we can support both Ukraine and Israel in terms of their defensive needs,” in line with other top US officials.

“We are engaged in comprehensive coordination across the Department of Defense,” an unnamed US defense official had told Axios. “This includes working closely with our combatant commands to ascertain which munitions and equipment from the U.S. inventory can be quickly made available for Israel’s needs.”

Biden’s Thursday night speech sought to continue the theme, which had also been laid out earlier this month by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Biden also said that both Putin and Hamas want “annihilation”. According to a summary of Biden’s main points:

Biden said he will ask Congress on Friday to authorize more spending for the Ukraine war and “unprecedented” military aid for Israel. Media reports say the request will be for about $100 billion and will also include aid for Taiwan, which China will view as highly provocative, and funding for border security.

About $60 billion is expected to be for Ukraine as the White House wants to pass a spending package on the war that will last through the 2024 election. Israel is set to receive about $10 billion in military aid, and the rest will go toward the border, Taiwan, and potentially other areas in the Asia Pacific.

In his speech, President Biden attempted to draw comparisons between Hamas and Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common: they both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy, completely annihilate it,” he said.

But no matter Biden’s superficial attempts to draw comparisons between the two conflicts and how it’s somehow America’s ‘duty’ to jump into supporting both wars, Ukraine is clearly no longer the number one priority for US defense planners.

Already, poll after poll has shown the American public to be “war-fatigued” as well. Popular support for funding Kiev has been waning, also in Europe. The Pentagon itself has lately admitted that money to Ukraine will not be “indefinite”

This post was originally published at Zero Hedge Source

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