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'Disturbed by reports about Eitan's psychological condition'

Aunt of Italy cable car crash child survivor arrives in Israel ahead of hearing

Aya Biran-Nirko says she aims to take Eitan Biran, 6, who was spirited out of Italy by grandpa, back ‘to his home in a peaceful way, without delay’

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

The Italy-based aunt of a 6-year-old boy who survived an Italian cable car crash in May that killed his immediate family, and who is now at the center of a bitter custody battle, arrived in Israel on Sunday ahead of an upcoming legal hearing regarding the child’s custody status.

A statement released on behalf of Eitan Biran’s paternal aunt said that her goal was to “return [him] to his home in a peaceful way without delay.”

A hearing in Israel over Eitan Biran’s guardianship status is expected to take place next week at a Tel Aviv family court, the Walla news site reported, and comes after the child was whisked away from Italy to Israel by his maternal grandfather in a suspected kidnapping last week.

Eitan has become the subject of a legal fight after his parents, younger brother and two great-grandparents were all killed when a cable snapped on the aerial tram bringing weekend visitors to the top of the Piedmont region’s Mottarone Mountain on May 24. A total of 14 people were killed, with the boy, who was hospitalized for weeks, the only survivor.

Eitan and his parents were living in Italy at the time of the accident, and after his release from a Turin hospital following weeks of treatment, Italian juvenile court officials ruled that the child would live with Biran-Nirko, an Israel-born doctor, near Pavia in northern Italy.

The statement on behalf of Biran-Nirko said she wants Eitan to return to Italy and continue his first school year, which he had started before being taken to Israel.

Aya Biran-Nirko speaks with the Kan public broadcaster, Sepetember 12, 2021. (Video screenshot)

The aunt additionally said she is “disturbed by the reports about Eitan’s psychological and mental condition and what is being done to him by his kidnappers while he is in their hands.”

Biran-Nirko and her husband want to raise Eitan alongside their two daughters, while a maternal aunt in Israel has also said that she wishes to adopt the child.

Biran’s paternal relatives say that he was taken out of Italy last week without their knowledge or permission and have filed a formal request with the Italian court system seeking Eitan’s return to Italy, saying that the boy’s grandfather Shmulik Peleg had failed to return Eitan home as agreed to last Saturday.

Italian authorities opened an investigation into the matter and Peleg has been questioned by Israeli police on kidnapping suspicions and placed under house arrest amid an ongoing probe.

On Friday, the 58-year-old Peleg defended his decision to bring the child to Israel from Italy last week, denying that he kidnapped the boy, and said that Eitan was “happy, surrounded by his family members,” in an interview with Channel 12 news. “He is in the place where he is supposed to be, in his home, in Israel,” said Peleg.

Rescuers work by the wreckage of a cable car after it collapsed near the summit of the Stresa-Mottarone line in the Piedmont region, northern Italy, May 23, 2022. (Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico Piemontese via AP)

On Saturday, Eitan’s uncle, Hagai (Biran-Nirko’s brother) and his wife said that they had visited the child at the grandfather’s home in Tel Aviv and although the child seemed to be physically well, “it was worrying to see that little Eitan showed clear signs of incitement and brainwashing.” The statement was delivered via the couple’s lawyer after the visit, which lasted about an hour.

The child, they said, “recited out-of-context statements and planted messages.” The boy’s “return to his home in Italy seems more urgent to us than ever,” they added.

Peleg has acknowledged driving the child from Italy into Switzerland before flying him back to Israel, saying “we departed in a totally legal way.” He insisted that his “thoughts are devoted only to the good of the child, the good of Eitan.”

Shmulik Peleg, the maternal grandfather of Eitan Biran, in an interview broadcast, on September 17, 2021. (Screenshot/Channel 12/)

He claimed that he did not take a regular flight out of Italy because he wanted to travel with the child as fast as possible without exposing him to other people. Peleg said that his 2003 domestic violence conviction did not have “the smallest or most basic connection to Eitan” and pointed to the fact that he was given joint custody of his children in his divorce settlement a number of years after that.

Peleg and the boy’s other relatives in Israel deny abducting him and insist they are acting in his interest.

However, prosecutors in the northern Italian city of Pavia said that they were seeking the return of the child to Italy in accordance with the Hague Convention on Children’s Rights, accusing Peleg of aggravated kidnapping.

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