ROME (AP) – Six-year-old boy who was the sole survivor of a cable car crash this year in northern Italy is at the center of a bitter custody battle between his maternal grandparents in Israel and his paternal parents in Italy, who claim the child was airlifted without their permission to Israel over the weekend.
Fourteen people, including the parents and younger brother of Eitan Biran, died when the cable car slammed into the side of a mountain on May 23 after the cable broke. After the boy was released from a Turin hospital after weeks of treatment for serious injuries, Italian juvenile court authorities ruled the child could live with a paternal aunt near Pavia in northern Italy. But aunt, Aya Biran, told reporters on Sunday that the previous day, Eitan’s maternal grandfather took the boy on an agreed-upon day’s visit and then took him without permission to Israel.
She said the boy has been undergoing both physical therapy and psychotherapy since being released from hospital and was due to have follow-up medical visits this week, including one in Turin.
“Her bed is empty, her toys and clothes have been abandoned. Her new desk, backpack, notebooks, pencil case and books were ready “for her first day of school on Monday, she said.
The aunt argued that when the maternal grandfather came to pick him up for an organized visit on Saturday morning, it was agreed that the boy would be back for dinner. But after Eitan did not return, the aunt filed a police report on Saturday evening, according to an Italian press report.
The maternal grandfather could not be reached immediately for comment. But a sister of Eitan’s late mother denied the boy was taken from Italy.
“We didn’t kidnap Eitan,” Gali Peleg told the 103 FM radio station in Israel. “We won’t use that word. What happened was we brought Eitan home. “
Gali Peleg wouldn’t say exactly where the boy was, only that he arrived on Saturday. “We take care of his emotional state and his health.”
In Italy, Aya Biran told reporters the boy had Italian nationality and had lived with his parents since he was a child in Italy before the accident. It was not immediately possible to confirm whether the child also had Israeli nationality, but he would have had an Israeli passport.
Italy’s foreign ministry did not immediately comment on the case.
The aunt in Israel said on the radio that the boy “cried out in excitement when he saw us. He said, “I am finally in Israel. The aunt added that “everything we did was for the boy’s sake.”
Pavia prosecutors’ offices were closed on Sunday and investigators could not be immediately reached to comment on Italian reports that they were planning to open an investigation into the case.
“I am certain and full of hope” that the Israeli and Italian authorities will work together “to ensure his return home” in Italy, Aya Biran told reporters.
The Corriere della Sera newspaper quoted a paternal uncle, Or Nirko, as saying on Saturday that the Pelegs had the boy’s Israeli passport and that they had not given it to the paternal parents despite an Italian court order ordering them to do so before. August 30. Nirko was quoted as saying that the boy’s maternal grandparents argued that if he had remained in Italy, “Eitan would have grown up with no connection to his (Israeli) identity.”
According to the paternal parents, the maternal family had challenged in Italian courts the custody regime that allowed Eitan to live with Biran, who is a doctor with his own children.
Josef Federman contributed from Jerusalem.