Israeli Grandfather Accused of Kidnapping Boy Whose Parents Died in Italian Cable Car Accident

'We did not kidnap him. We brought him home,' says Eitan’s maternal aunt Gali Peleg

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Rescuers work by the wreckage of the cable car after it collapsed near the summit of the Stresa-Mottarone line in the Piedmont region, northern Italy.
Rescuers work by the wreckage of the cable car after it collapsed near the summit of the Stresa-Mottarone line in the Piedmont region, northern Italy.Credit: ,AP

The grandfather of six-year-old Eitan Biran, whose family was killed in a cable car accident in northern Italy this summer, has been accused of kidnapping the boy and spiriting him out of Italy to Israel on Saturday, following an extended custody dispute between relatives in the two countries.

Eitan was the only survivor when the cable car he was riding with his two-year-old brother Tom and parents Amit Biran and Tal Peleg-Biran, an Israeli couple studying and working in Italy, plunged to the ground at a popular tourist site in late May. Also killed were Tal’s grandparents Barbara and Itzhak Cohen, who were visiting Italy at the time. In total, 14 people lost their lives in the accident, which investigators later blamed on negligence by the gondola’s operators.

After being released from the hospital, Biran, who is a dual Israeli-Italian citizen, found himself at the center of an acrimonious custody dispute in which his family in Israel accused their Italian counterparts of abducting and mistreating him. Until Saturday, he was in the care of Aya Biran-Nirko, his paternal aunt, in the city of Pavia.

According to media reports, Eitan was on a court-ordered visit with his maternal grandfather when the older relative, who had his Israeli passport, fled the country with him. An attorney for the family subsequently confirmed to Biran-Nirko that the pair were in Israel.

Speaking with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Biran-Nirko said that Eitan had grown up in Italy and that his family there was “very worried” about him. She condemned the “unilateral and very serious move by the Peleg family,” and accused the grandfather of having previously been “convicted of mistreating his ex-wife.”

Biran, who was supposed to start school this week, “arrived in Italy at the age of 1 month and 18 days, he is an Italian citizen, not just an Israeli,” Biran-Nirko stated.

According to La Repubblica, a local prosecutor has opened a kidnapping investigation into the matter.

In a statement carried by the paper, Milo Hisbani, president of the Milanese Jewish community, condemned “the kidnapping of little Eitan,” which he called a “serious act that violates Italian and international laws.”

In an interview with Channel 12 News, a friend of Aya Biran told the Israeli network that “the grandfather was supposed to return Eitan to Aya around 6:30 P.M., which did not happen. The grandfather severed contact with Aya. After a few hours, it became clear that without Eitan's permission he was flown to Israel.”

Speaking with the 103 FM radio station, Eitan’s maternal aunt Gali Peleg denied committing any crime, stating: “We did not kidnap him. We brought him home.”

She claimed that Eitan’s Israeli relatives were given little information on his wellbeing and that “if the judge had not scheduled appointments, we would not have seen him.”

“I am only speaking to clarify that we have acted for the good of Eitan,” she said.

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