An Israeli court has ordered that a six-year-old Israeli boy who survived a cable car crash in Italy must be returned to relatives there amid a bitter custody battle between them and family in Israel.
Eitan Biran will now be returned to “the place of his normal residence which is Italy”. He will stay with his relatives in Italy until a local court rules on the custody dispute between his Italy-based paternal relatives and his Israel-based maternal relatives.
Biran was the sole survivor of the accident in May which killed 14 people, including his parents and younger sibling, when a cable car slammed into a mountainside in northern Italy.
The court ordered his maternal grandfather to pay around $20,000 in expenses and attorney fees after he flew him from Italy to Israel without authorities’ knowledge and against the wishes of his family members in Italy.
His grandfather, Shmulik Peleg, has defended his decision to take the boy away, saying it was in the child’s best interest. He drove Biran to Switzerland without the other relative’s knowledge before flying him back to Israel.
Biran and his parents were living in Italy at the time of the accident.
After his release from a Turin hospital following weeks of treatment, Italian juvenile court officials ruled the child would live with his paternal aunt, Aya Biran, near Pavia, northern Italy.
In Monday’s ruling, Judge Iris Ilotovich-Segal of the Tel Aviv family court said Biran’s residence was in Italy, where his family moved when he was only a month old. She concluded that his relocation to Israel was unlawful and violated the guardianship rights of his aunt.
The judge also called on the family to reconcile, saying "there is supreme importance in focusing on the medical and emotional condition of the minor and giving him the support, treatment and embrace he needs following the tragedy that befell him and his family”.
There was no immediate comment from his maternal grandparents.
Biran’s paternal relatives welcomed the ruling in a statement, saying "there are no victors and no vanquished, no winners and no losers”.
"There is only Eitan. All that we ask now is that Eitan returns home quickly, to friends and to school, to his family and especially to the therapeutic and educational frameworks that he needs."