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Freed Israeli hostage says dog was 'moral support' in Hamas captivity

Mia Leimberg, 17, holding her dog Bella
— Jerusalem (AFP)

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 militants.

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.

Images of the 17-year-old's release -- flanked by fighters from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, 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."

Her father, Moshe, had looked for Bella in the aftermath of the assault -- in which around 240 hostages were taken, Israeli officials say -- hoping she 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."

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.

Five hostages were freed before the truce, including one rescued in an Israeli operation.

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

The country declared war on Hamas after the attack, which killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli authorities.

The latest toll from the Hamas government's media office said 16,248 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, had been killed.