The 5-year-old Israeli boy who was the sole survivor of the cable car disaster in northern Italy that killed 14 people is reportedly at the center of a bitter custody battle between his two aunts – one of whom accused the other of kidnapping the child.
Eitan Biran made it out alive when the cable car plunged 20 feet into the side of a mountain near Lake Maggiore on May 24, but his parents, 2-year-old brother and great-grandparents perished.
The orphaned boy, who was released from a Turin hospital in June, has been living with his aunt Aya Biran-Nirko, the Italy-based sister of Eitan’s late father, Amit Biran, 30, the Times of Israel reported.
Gali Peleg, the sister of Eitan’s late mother, Tal Peleg-Biran, 26, has accused Biran-Nirko of kidnapping the boy and preventing him from having a normal childhood, according to the news outlet.
“He was abducted by relatives who don’t know him at all. [Biran-Nirko] was not close to him in any way,” Peleg said at a press conference, where she was accompanied by her husband, Ron Peri, and an attorney.
She that said short visits with Eitan mandated by an Italian court had also left him feeling like they did not want him.
“In a few years he’ll look back and see where he grew up and who his parents were and it’s important to me that he sees that we were always there for him,” Peleg said. “He already lost one family and does not need to lose another.”
Though Eitan was raised in Italy, Peri claimed his Israeli parents wanted him to receive a Jewish education in Israel.
He said they had only recently learned of Biran-Nirko’s existence — and hinted that money could have been a motivating factor in her “appearing out of nowhere.”
But the family’s neighbors in Italy said Eitan’s parents had decided to place him in a Catholic school run by nuns.
“People who live far from their own country think of going back from time to time but their intention was to stay here in Pavia,” Piero Monni told La Repubblica, the Times of London reported.
Meanwhile, Biran-Nirko, a doctor and mother of two, said she was raised in Israel and moved to Italy to study medicine — staying there to work as a prison doctor and addiction specialist, the Times of Israel reported.
Lawyers for Biran-Nirko, who lives near Pavia in northern Italy, said they were shocked by Peleg’s “surreal” comments, the Times of London reported.
“We sincerely cannot understand the reason for such acrimony and falsehood,” they said, adding that the door was open to family members who wanted to contribute to the child’s welfare.
“Later, when he is older, he will be able to make his own choices,” the attorneys said, according to the UK news outlet.
Still, Peri insisted that Eitan, whose father had moved to Italy to study medicine, is being “held hostage.”
In June, Marcella Severino, the mayor of the town of Stresa where the cable car was based, told an Italian news outlet that Biran-Nirko was “a constant presence in the life of the child — he’s in good hands,” according to the Times of Israel.
Ariel Di Porto, the chief rabbi of Turin, told La Repubblica last week that Eitan was continuing to recover from his injuries.
In addition to his parents, Eitan lost his 2-year-old brother Tom and great-grandparents Yitzhak and Barbara Cohen, 81 and 71, respectively.
The boy, who reportedly suffered post-traumatic amnesia, was saved by his dad’s embrace, a hospital spokesperson has told Israeli media.
Italian authorities arrested three men — Luigi Nerini, 56, Gabriele Tadini, 63, and Enrico Perocchio, 51 — connected to Ferrovie Mottarone, the company that manages the cableway, saying the emergency brakes had been deactivated.