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Release of Israeli teenage hostage ends mystery over lost dog

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

Ever since Hamas's deadly October 7 attack on southern Israel, the father of 17-year-old hostage Mia Leimberg had been praying for her safe release from captivity in Gaza -- and the return of the family pet.

To Moshe Leimberg's great joy, his daughter was finally freed on Tuesday as part of a group of hostages 12 -- 10 Israelis and two Thais -- that also included her mother and aunt.

And the release of the hostages under an agreement to pause fighting between Israel and Hamas also solved the mystery of what happened to Mia's pet dog Bella.

At the time of the Palestinian militant group's attack, the dog had been with Mia on the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nir Yitzhak, where she and her mother Gabriela had been visiting her aunt.

Leimberg searched for the fluffy white dog in the aftermath of the assault -- in which around 240 hostages were taken, Israeli officials say -- hoping it would be a comfort for his daughter when she finally returned, Israeli daily Israel Hayom reported.

The fate of the animal became clear on Tuesday when pictures were beamed around the world of Mia -- flanked by masked and armed fighters from Hamas and militant group the Islamic Jihad -- being handed over to Red Cross officials.

She was carrying Bella in her arms, which it now appears was with her all along.

Israeli officials say the Hamas attack on October 7 killed around 1,200 people, most of them civilians.

In response, Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas and has unleashed an air and ground campaign that the Hamas government says has killed more than 15,000 people, also mostly civilians.