The 6-year-old boy who was the sole survivor of the cable car disaster in northern Italy that killed 14 people has allegedly been abducted by his maternal grandfather and flown to Israel on a private jet, according to reports.
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 is at the center of a custody battle, has reportedly been living with his aunt Aya Biran-Nirko, the Italy-based sister of Eitan’s late father, Amit Biran, 30.
Gali Peleg, the sister of Eitan’s late mother, Tal Peleg-Biran, 26, has accused Biran-Nirko of kidnapping Eitan and preventing him from having a normal childhood.
On Sunday, things took a dramatic turn when Biran-Nirko told reporters that the previous day, Eitan’s maternal grandfather, Shmulik Peleg, took the boy on an agreed-upon day visit, but flew him without permission to Israel.
The aunt said the boy has been undergoing both physical therapy and psychotherapy since he was released from a hospital and was expected to have follow-up doctor visits this week, including one in Turin.
“His bed is empty, his toys and clothes were left behind. His new desk, school backpack, notebooks, pencil case and books were ready” for his first day of class Monday, Biran-Nirko said.
She claimed that when the grandfather came to pick Eitan up for an arranged visit Saturday, it was agreed that the boy would be back by dinner. But Eitan didn’t return and the aunt filed a police report Saturday night, the Italian Corriere della Serra reported.
The grandfather couldn’t immediately be reached for comment by the Associated Press, but Peleg denied that the boy was kidnapped.
“We did not abduct Eitan,” she told Israeli radio station 103 FM. “We will not use that word. What happened is that we brought Eitan home. We are caring for his emotional state and health.”
Peleg wouldn’t say exactly where Eitan was, only that the boy had arrived in Israel on Saturday and “screamed from excitement when he saw us.”
“He said, ‘I’m finally in Israel,’” she said, adding that “everything we did was only for the good of the boy.”
Biran-Nirko told reporters in Italy that the boy has Italian citizenship and had been living with his parents since he was a toddler in Italy before the accident.
It wasn’t immediately possible to confirm if Eitan also had Israeli citizenship, but he reportedly had an Israeli passport. The Italian foreign ministry didn’t immediately comment on the case.
The Corriere della Sera quoted a paternal uncle, Or Nirko, as saying the Pelegs had failed to give Eitan’s Israeli passport to the paternal relatives despite an Italian court order that they do so by Aug. 30.
Nirko was quoted as saying that Eitan’s maternal grandparents had argued that if he stayed in Italy, “Eitan would have grown up without ties to his (Israeli) identity.’’
According to the Italian newspaper, Shmulik Peleg picked the boy up at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and drove him across the border to Switzerland, where they boarded the private jet to Tel Aviv, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The Corriere della Sera reported that a private plane was needed because of the strict laws that forbid taking a child out of the country without the legal guardian’s permission.
Meanwhile, an Israeli governmental legal opinion issued Sunday found that bringing Eitan to Israel against the wishes of his legal guardian likely constitutes a kidnapping, according to the Times of Israel, which cited a Channel 12 report.
The document by experts in the Foreign and Justice ministries said the move violated the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, a law Israel adopted in 1991.
According to the law, the Jewish state must do everything in its power to return Eitan to his legal guardian in Italy as quickly as possible, the Times of Israel reported.
With Post wires