An Israeli schoolgirl who was taken hostage by ruthless Hamas terrorists has revealed how she managed to keep her beloved shih tzu alive during 53 horrifying days together in captivity.
Mia Leimberg, 17, was finally released on Tuesday night along with her mother and was filmed clutching her dog Bella close to her chest as she was handed back to Israel by Hamas fighters.
The five-year-old dog was only spotted by Hamas gunmen when Mia, her mother Gabriela, 59, and aunt Clara Merman, 63, arrived in Gaza, having been snatched from Israel during the barbaric October 7 attacks.
The terrorists had initially assumed that Mia was clinging on to a cuddly toy – but when they realised Bella was real, they threatened to kill or dump her on the way back to Gaza.
A defiant Mia refused to let Bella go and was eventually allowed to keep hold of her pet. She kept Bella alive by sharing her meagre rations with the dog for almost two months.
Mia’s cousin Geffen Marman, 36, told The Sun on Sunday: ‘Mia and Bella are inseparable. The kidnappers had broken into the family safe room and put them in a pick-up truck, but Mia is very determined and held Bella close as they were driven to Gaza.
Mia Leimberg was freed from captivity on Tuesday night. She was filmed being handed over with her dog Bella
Mia, Gabriela, Clara and Bella re pictured back in Israeli territory after spending weeks as hostages in Gaza
‘Bella is five-years-old but she’s tiny and the terrorists thought Mia was clinging to a toy.
‘It was only when they reached Gaza they saw the dog moving and a big arguments started about what they were going to do.’
Geffen said that after they finally agreed to let Mia keep Bella, the family were taken to a place where they could hear bombs falling around them. The dog provided ‘great comfort’ to them during a ‘terrifying’ time.
Mia’s cousin also revealed how the family were given very little to eat – usually just rice and pitta bread – which was shared between all of them, including Bella.
Bella’s survival is even more surprising as Islamic attitudes often see dogs as ‘impure’.
Geffen said that Bella was initially terrified and whimpered as gun-toting terrorists stormed the Nir Yitzhak kibbutz, three miles from Gaza, on October 7.
The family thought that Bella must have escaped amid the rampage until they saw her in Mia’s arms during the hostage releases across the seven-day ceasefire.
Geffen said the family could not believe it when they saw Mia and her mum – and Bella as well.
During the video, a masked Hamas terrorist is seen stepping forward and speaking to Mia about the dog in Arabic.
Mia’s cousin also revealed how the family were given very little to eat – usually just rice and pitta bread – which was shared between all of them, including Bella. Pictured: Mia Leimberg
Smoke billowing over Gaza during Israeli bombardment amid continuing battles between Israel and Hamas yesterday
Injured people are brought to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital for treatment in Deir al-Balah, Gaza on December 2, 2023
Injured people, including children, are brought to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital for treatment after an Israeli attack in Deir al-Balah, Gaza on December 2, 2023
It’s not clear what was said but Geffen explained that there was no way Mia was going to be separated from Bella after the ordeal they faced together.
The family are now praying for the release of Clara’s partner Luis Har, 70, and her brother, 60-year-old Fernando Merman.
Israeli authorities estimate that around 100 women and children were among the 240 people abducted by Hamas terrorists as they stormed kibbutzim in southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people, on October 7.
Renewed hostilities have heightened concerns for 137 hostages who, according to the Israeli military, are still held after 105 were freed during the truce.
A 70-year-old woman held by Hamas was declared dead on Saturday, according to her kibbutz, bringing the number of known dead hostages to eight.
The prospect of further ceasefires in Gaza appeared bleak, as Israel recalled its negotiators and Hamas’ deputy leader said any further swap of Gaza-held hostages for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel would only happen as part of ending the war.
‘We will continue the war until we achieve all its goals, and it’s impossible to achieve those goals without the ground operation,’ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an address Saturday night.
At least 200 Palestinians have been killed since the fighting resumed Friday morning following the week-long truce with the territory’s ruling militant group Hamas, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.
A picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on December 2, 2023, shows an explosion and smoke billowing over the Palestinian territory during an Israeli strike
Explosions and smoke in Gaza City amid Israeli airstrikes on December 2, 2023
An Israeli air force attack helicopter fires a missile while flying over the border with the Gaza Strip near southern Israel on December 2
Several multi-story residential buildings were hit on Saturday, engulfing neighborhoods in huge clouds of smoke.
Separately, the ministry said the overall death toll in Gaza since the Oct. 7 start of the war had surpassed 15,200, a sharp jump from the previous count of more than 13,300 on Nov. 20.
The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants, but it said 70% of the dead were women and children. It said more than 40,000 people had been wounded since the war began.
‘Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating,’ U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters during the the COP28 climate conference in Dubai.