Teen freed with dog says pooch escaped captors’ notice, provided support in Gaza

When Mia Leimberg was released by Hamas and handed over to Red Cross with her beloved Bella in her arms, it solved mystery of what had happened to her missing pet

Mia Leimberg and her dog Bella who were released from Hamas captivity, at their home in Jerusalem, December 3, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Mia Leimberg and her dog Bella who were released from Hamas captivity, at their home in Jerusalem, December 3, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Freed Israeli hostage Mia Leimberg credited her pet dog Bella with providing “moral support” during the weeks she spent in captivity in the hands of Gaza terrorists after her abduction during Hamas’s devastating October 7 assault on Israel.

Leimberg, her mother Gabriela, and her aunt Clara Marman were among the Israeli hostages released by Hamas and its allies under a temporary truce deal before it fell apart on Friday when the terror group violated the terms. Fighting resumed ending a week-long period during which dozens of hostages were released.

Images of the 17-year-old’s release — flanked by Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists, with Bella in her arms — were beamed around the world last week, finally solving the mystery of what had become of the fluffy white family pet.

“Overall, she was a huge help to me, she kept me busy,” Leimberg said in an interview with Israeli public broadcaster Kan released on Wednesday.

“She was moral support, even though she didn’t want to be,” she said.

Leimberg said she hid Bella under her clothes as she and her mother were abducted from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, which was “difficult” because of the extra weight.

“It was quite a journey for both of us,” she said and noted that “luckily for me… she is rather quiet.”

As a result, her captors didn’t notice the dog.

On Wednesday, footage emerged showing Leimberg and her mother being driven out of the kibbutz in the bed of a white pickup truck on October 7. Two gunmen sit in the back with them.

Leimberg’s father, Moshe, had looked for Bella in the aftermath of the assault in which terrorists killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took some 240 hostages to Gaza. Moshe Leimberg expressed the hope that Bella would be a comfort to his daughter when she finally returned, the Israel Hayom newspaper reported.

But the fate of the animal was not known until Leimberg’s release.

“We gave her our leftovers to eat,” Leimberg said of her and Bella’s time in captivity. “She tried to walk all over where we were kept, and we had to make sure she wouldn’t explore too much.”

Moshe said that the Hamas captors did not notice that Mia had Bella even as the hostages were ordered to walk through a tunnel in Gaza. It was only when they eventually emerged from the tunnel that they realized that “this was not a doll, this was a living, breathing dog.”

“A bit of an argument ensued and it was decided to let her keep the dog,” he said. Bella was kept in a bird cage.

Now safely back in Israel, Leimberg said, “Physically I feel fine.”

But “mentally, it was quite a journey and it was a hard experience,” she said.

Freedom for the Leimbergs has been bittersweet as Mia’s uncle along with her aunt’s partner are still being held hostage in Gaza.

“It feels wrong to be here without them. It is so important that we bring back everybody. As much as I am happy to be back, we’re still not done.”

The seven-day pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas, which began in late November, saw 105 hostages released from Gaza, including 80 Israelis who were freed in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Israel says 138 hostages taken by terrorists on October 7 remain in captivity.

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