RAFAH: Hamas released two American hostages held in Gaza, offering a "sliver of hope" to desperate families, as Israel pounded the densely-populated territory where millions waited for promised aid deliveries.
The fate of the hostages has been shrouded in uncertainty, so the release of mother and daughter Judith and Natalie 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.
Israel's military campaign has levelled entire city blocks in Gaza, killing 4,137 Palestinians, mostly civilians, according to the health ministry.
Israeli troops are 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 carries many risks, including to the hostages.
Biden said he had spoken to the released pair and promised US support "as they recover from this terrible ordeal".
He thanked Qatar, which hosts Hamas' political bureau, for its mediation in securing the release, and said he was working "around the clock" to win the return of other Americans being held.
Natalie Raanan's half-brother Ben said that he felt an "overwhelming sense of joy" at the release after "the most horrible of ordeals".
Hamas said Egypt and Qatar had negotiated the release and it was "working with all mediators to implement the movement's decision to close the civilian file if appropriate security conditions allow".
In Gaza, Israeli jets continued a relentless bombing campaign, with the military saying it hit more than 100 targets overnight.
Some 2.4 million Palestinians live in the densely populated enclave, and almost half have been displaced, according to the UN.
Israel has cut off supplies of water, electricity, fuel and food to the long-blockaded territory.
Israel on Friday ordered the 25,000 residents of the northern town of Kiryat Shmona to evacuate.
Violence has also flared in the West Bank, where 84 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, according to the Palestinian health ministry. — AFP