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Supreme Court orders delay in return of cable car crash survivor boy to Italy

Justices rule that 6-year-old Eitan Biran will remain in Israel until at least November 23, after his parental grandparents filed appeal against returning him to other relatives

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)
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)

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the court-ordered return to Italy of an Israeli boy whose parents died in an Italian cable car crash be delayed, while it considers an appeal by the 6-year-old’s maternal grandparents to keep him in Israel.

The justices ordered Eitan Biran be kept in Israel until at least November 23.

The ruling comes after his maternal grandparents filed an appeal with the court against a Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court ruling last week to return him to other relatives in Italy.

Biran has been at the center of a bitter custody battle between relatives in Italy and Israel since his parents, younger brother and great-grandparents were among 14 killed in May when a cable car they were riding in slammed into a mountainside in northern Italy.

His maternal grandparents in Israel and his paternal relatives in Italy are both seeking custody.

The boy’s maternal grandfather, Shmulik Peleg, made headlines in September when he whisked Biran to Israel on a private jet against the wishes of his family in Italy.

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

Italy issued an international arrest warrant for Peleg last week, alleging that he kidnapped Biran when he took him from his aunt’s home and flew him to Israel.

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

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 conditionally released. 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.

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.

Aya Biran-Nirko, left, a paternal aunt of Eitan Biran, the boy who survived a cable car crash in Italy that killed his immediate family, arrives at court in Tel Aviv, October 8, 2021. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

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 aunt. The judge recognized her as a legitimate guardian based on a ruling by an Italian court and said Peleg had “unlawfully” removed the boy from his aunt’s care.

The court “ordered the return of the minor to his usual place of residence in Italy,” the country where he had been living since he was a month old, and noted that it is there that the boy’s future and well-being will be decided. In addition, Peleg was ordered to pay NIS 70,000 ($21,835) in court expenses.

The judge also called on the family to reconcile, saying it was in the boy’s interests.

The Pelegs’ appeal maintained that Aya Biran had never been officially granted custody over the child and claimed the boy wants to remain in Israel.

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