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Mia Leimberg has been released by spending almost two months in captivity in Gaza with her Shi Tzu dog, one of the most surprising moments in a week-long ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that ended on Friday.
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"While we were there, we had to feed her our leftovers to talk about you, Bella," Mia, 17, said, looking at the little white dog in her arms. "And we had to make sure she didn't go wild there. We had to protect her so she wouldn't start circling and annoy anyone there," she added.
Mia and her mother, Gabriella, were visiting relatives in Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak, from where they were taken hostage by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel that sparked the war in Gaza. The mother, daughter, aunt and dog were released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, but her uncle and aunt's partner are still in captivity.
"It was tough. I kept her (Bella) all the way there. That was another four pounds. And I was just lucky enough to be able to keep her through this whole situation and bring her back," Mia said from her home in Jerusalem in her first interview with the media.
Information began to emerge about the conditions in which some Israeli hostages were held, Reuters reported. Some describe "suffocating" rooms with no access to medicine and less and less food. Children say they were always told to be quiet.
"Luckily for me, Bella is not like other little dogs I personally know, she's quite quiet except when she's playing or angry," Mia said. "If they thought it would create a problem, I honestly don't think they would have let me keep it," she added.
Mia's father, Moshe, said he was surprised to see that his daughter had been released with the dog in her arms. When she was kidnapped by a kibbutz, Mia hid the dog under her pajamas. "Then they were taken to the tunnels. The dog was with her the whole time. When they got out of the tunnel, they had to climb a ladder, and then the people of Hamas noticed that she was not holding a doll, but a living, breathing dog. A brief argument ensued and they decided to let her keep her dog instead of leaving him," he said.
During the ceasefire, which ended last Friday, more than 100 hostages were released. Since then, fighting has resumed and Israel has continued its military offensive against Hamas in Gaza.
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Mia believes captivity was a difficult experience that "will take quite some time to digest." However, Bella's presence helped her. "She was a huge help to me. She was bothering me. It was a moral support," she said.
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