Custody case opens with 6-year-old boy, sole survivor of Italian cable car disaster

TEL AVIV, September 23 (Reuters) – A Tel Aviv family court held its first hearing on Thursday in a custody battle for a six-year-old boy, the sole survivor of the Italian cable car disaster, who was taken to Israel by his grandfather without permission from the family in Italy.

Family members based in the two countries are arguing over who should take care of Eitan Biran, whose parents, younger brother and 11 others all died when a gondola collapsed in northern Italy in May.

The boy moved in with his paternal aunt, Aya Biran, in northern Italy after the accident. His maternal grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, picked him up on September 11 for a planned family trip, but they never returned.

The family in Italy say Peleg drove with Eitan across the neighboring border to Switzerland and flew in a private jet to Israel, where the grandfather and other family members live.

They describe the trip as a kidnapping and have asked the Israeli family court for the return of the child. Peleg said his actions were legal and in Eitan’s best interests.

“At this point, I’m worried. I want to see him at his home as soon as possible, ”Biran, who came to Israel for the hearing, told reporters outside the court, which met behind closed doors. “I am worried about Eitan.”

Peleg attended the hearing but did not speak to reporters.

In a joint statement, lawyers for both sides said they agreed that the welfare of the child was paramount.

Ronan Dlayahu, the family’s representative in Israel, called for the boy’s privacy to be respected. Shmuel Moran, representing the family in Italy, said the parties had agreed to a temporary arrangement for visits pending a custody decision.

Prosecutors in Pavia, northern Italy, have opened a kidnapping investigation after Eitan was taken to Israel. The Israeli police questioned Peleg about this.

Magistrates are still investigating why the cable car, on a line connecting Stresa on the shores of Lake Maggiore to the nearby mountain of Mottarone, collapsed.

Reporting by Ilan Rozenberg in Tel Aviv, Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Crispian Balmer in Rome Editing by Jeffrey Heller

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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