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Welfare authorities took two sisters away from their parents, and later sent the 2-year-old home - but not her 6-year-old sister, Haaretz has learned.

The affair surfaced during a review of the older sister's custody at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court. "If the mother is so dangerous, why did she regain custody of the younger sister?" Judge Riva Niv asked the welfare service representatives.

The affair began three months ago when police heard the parents were abusing the older sister, who has a mild case of mental retardation. Noting burn marks on the girl's back, the child's kindergarten teacher told police she suspected the parents had caused it with a hot iron.

Police then arrested the parents, and transferred the two sisters to the welfare authorities, which placed the older sister in a boarding house and the younger sister in a foster home.

During the parents' arraignment, a Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court judge said the parents' treatment of their daughters suggested they posed them a danger. Yet, after two weeks behind bars, the parents were released and their younger daughter returned to them.

The parents' attorneys, Amikam Hadar and Hedva Shapira, explained the situation developed because each sister's case was brought before a different court. While the Magistrate's Court reviewed the case of the 6-year-old and decided not to return her to her parents, the case of the 2-year-old was reviewed by the Tel Aviv Juvenile Court.

Commenting on this, Judge Niv asked yesterday why the courts had not coordinated their stances. She also referred the welfare services and the parents - who are fighting for custody of their eldest daughter, as police continue their investigation - to the juvenile court.

When queried by Haaretz, a spokesperson for the welfare services said only that "the older child has not been returned to her parents because they are currently being investigated on suspicions of abuse."

The Tel Aviv Municipality, whose social workers are responsible for handling the case, said the two cases were reviewed by different courts "according to a legal requirement."