Cyprus said to arrest man who aided ‘kidnapping’ of boy orphaned in cable car crash

Gabriel Abutbul Alon accused of driving 6-year-old Eitan Biran and his grandfather from Italy to Switzerland en route to Israel, in violation of local court order

(L) Gabriel Abutbul Alon. (R) The Biran family, with Eitan on the right. (Facebook; Courtesy)
(L) Gabriel Abutbul Alon. (R) The Biran family, with Eitan on the right. (Facebook; Courtesy)

An Israeli man who reportedly assisted in the alleged kidnapping of a boy whose parents died in a cable car crash in Italy, has been arrested in Cyprus, reports said Friday.

The battle for custody over Eitan Biran, 6, the sole survivor of the May crash that killed 14 people — including his parents, younger brother and great-grandparents — had captured headlines even before his maternal grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, whisked him away from his paternal aunt’s home and brought him to Israel on a private jet in September in violation of a local court order.

According to Italian daily Corriere Della Sera, warrants had been issued for Peleg as well as for Gabriel Abutbul Alon, a “contractor” who apparently drove the vehicle used to take Peleg and his grandson from Italy to neighboring Switzerland, from where they were flown to Israel.

Alon was arrested in Limassol — where he lives — by Cypriot authorities, Cypriot and Italian media reports said Friday, widely cited in Hebrew-language media.

“I was not on the plane at all. This is injustice. I am willing to be interrogated in Israel and give my testimony to the police investigators that will prove that I was not on the plane while the grandfather and grandson were on it,” Alon told Channel 12 news last week, before his arrest.

Peleg has claimed 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. The grandfather was questioned by Israeli police in September in connection with the kidnapping allegation, before being released under restrictions.

In an interview at the time, Peleg defended his decision to bring the child to Israel, saying it was in his best interest, and denying he kidnapped the boy.

Shmulik Peleg, grandfather of Eitan Biran, who survived a cable car crash in Italy that killed his immediate family, arrives at court in Tel Aviv, Nov. 11, 2021. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Biran’s paternal relatives said he was taken without their knowledge and they had filed a legal complaint in Italy seeking his return.

At the time of the crash, Biran and his parents, Amit Biran and Tal Peleg, and his younger brother, Tom, had been living in Italy, where Amit Biran was studying medicine.

After his release from a Turin hospital following weeks of treatment after the accident, Italian juvenile court officials ruled the child would live with a paternal aunt, Aya Biran, near Pavia, in northern Italy.

Last month, a Tel Aviv court ordered the 6-year-old be returned to his relatives in Italy where he would remain in the custody of his paternal aunt. The judge recognized her as a legitimate temporary guardian based on a ruling by an Italian court and said Peleg had “unlawfully” removed the boy from his aunt’s care.

A view shows a journalist working by a cable car’s wreckage covered with a tarpaulin on May 26, 2021 on the slopes of the Mottarone peak above Stresa, Piedmont, three days after a crash that killed 14 (MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)

The Pelegs appealed, maintaining that Aya Biran had never been officially granted custody over the child and claiming the boy wants to remain in Israel.

Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that the boy should be returned to Italy. Last week, the court delayed the implementation of the decision while it considers an appeal to keep him in Israel.

Most Popular
read more: