Abduction probe opened against grandpa of boy who survived Italy cable car crash

Italian prosecutors to investigate Shmuel Peleg for alleged kidnapping, call on him to return Eitan Biran, amid custody battle between 6-year-old’s relatives

The Biran family, with Eitan on the right. (Courtesy)
The Biran family, with Eitan on the right. (Courtesy)

Italian prosecutors on Monday opened an abduction investigation against the grandfather of a 6-year-old Israeli boy who lost his family in a cable car disaster in the country earlier this year.

The prosecutors in the northern city of Pavia said Shmuel Peleg is suspected of aggravated kidnapping and called for him to return his grandson Eitan Biran to Italy in accordance with the Hague Convention on Children’s Rights, according to the BBC.

Under the law, Israel must do everything in its power to return the boy to his legal guardian in Italy as soon as possible.

Eitan’s current legal guardian, Aya Biran-Nirko, the Italy-based sister of the child’s late father, filed a complaint with Italian police on Saturday, claiming that the boy was abducted by Peleg and taken to Israel.

The boy’s other aunt, Gali Peleg, denied that the child had been abducted, saying that she has initiated legal proceedings to adopt her nephew.

The Italian daily Corriere Della Sera reported Monday that Peleg drove with Biran from Italy to the Swiss city of Lugano, apparently having exited the country with his grandson’s Israeli passport. From Switzerland, they traveled on a private airplane to Israel, the newspaper said.

The aunt contended that when the maternal grandfather came to pick up the child for an arranged visit on Saturday morning, it was agreed that the boy would be back by dinner. But when Eitan did not return, the aunt filed a police report on Saturday night, Italian news reports said.

Biran-Nirko reportedly also received a message from the Pelegs’ lawyer confirming that Eitan had arrived in Israel.

Rescuers work near the wreckage of a cable car after it collapsed near the summit of the Stresa-Mottarone line in the Piedmont region, northern Italy, as seen from the aerial photograph, May 23, 2021. (Vigili del Fuoco Firefighters via AP)

Fourteen people, including Eitan’s father, Amit Biran, 30; his mother Tal Peleg-Biran, 26; 2-year-old brother Tom; and his great-grandparents from Tel Aviv, Barbara, 71, and Yitzhak Cohen, 81, were killed in the May 24 accident, after a cable snapped on the aerial tram bringing weekend visitors to the top of the Piedmont region’s Mottarone Mountain. All five were buried in Israel a few days later.

A family friend told Channel 12 news on Sunday that the Biran family was working with the Italian authorities to return Eitan to the country.

Gali Peleg in August accused Biran-Nirko of kidnapping the boy and preventing him from having a “normal childhood.” Though Eitan was raised in Italy, Peleg’s husband, Ron Peri, claimed that the child’s Israeli parents had never wanted him to grow up there, and would have preferred that he receive a Jewish education in Israel.

In June, Marcella Severino, the mayor of the town of Stresa where the cable car started out, told an Italian newspaper that Biran-Nirko was “a constant presence in the life of the child. He’s in good hands.”

Eitan suffered severe trauma in the crash and Biran-Nirko took on the task of dealing with the hospital system and his recovery, though Peri said the arrangement was meant to be temporary.

The Associated Press contributed to the report.

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