A six-year-old boy who was the sole survivor of a cable car crash in northern Italy earlier this year is at the centre of a custody battle between his maternal grandparents in Israel and his paternal relatives in Italy.
Fourteen people, including Eitan Biran’s parents and younger sibling, died when the car slammed into a mountainside on May 23 after the cable broke.
After the boy was released from a Turin hospital following weeks of treatment for critical injuries, Italian youth court officials ruled that he could live with a paternal aunt near Pavia, in northern Italy.
But the aunt, Aya Biran, said on Sunday (local time), that the previous day, Eitan’s maternal grandfather had taken the boy on an agreed day visit, then flew him without permission to Israel.
She said the youngster had been undergoing both physical therapy and psychotherapy since his hospital release and was due to have follow-up medical visits this week, including one in Turin.
“His bed is empty, his toys and clothes were left behind. His new desk, school backpack, notebooks, pencil case and books were ready” for his first day of class on Monday, she said.
The aunt said that when the maternal grandfather had come to pick Eitan up for an arranged visit on Saturday morning, it was agreed that the boy would be back by dinner. But the aunt filed a police report on Saturday night when Eitan had not returned, Italian news report said.
The maternal grandfather could not immediately be reached for comment. But a sister of Eitan’s late mother denied that the boy had been snatched from Italy.
“We did not abduct Eitan,” Gali Peleg told an Israeli radio station.
“We will not use that word. What happened is that we brought Eitan home.”
She would not say exactly where the boy was, only that he had arrived on Saturday.
“We are caring for his emotional state and health,” she added.
Ms Biran, a doctor with her own children, said Eitan had Italian citizenship and had lived with his parents in Italy since he was a toddler. It was not immediately possible to confirm if the child also had Israeli citizenship but he reportedly had an Israeli passport.
The aunt in Israel told the radio station that the boy “screamed from excitement when he saw us. He said, ‘I’m finally in Israel'”.
She added that “everything we did was only for the good of the boy”.
Pavia prosecutors’ offices were closed on Sunday and investigators could not immediately be reached for comment on Italian news reports that they were considering opening an investigation into the case.
“I am certain and full of hope” that Israeli and Italian authorities will work together “to ensure his return home” to Italy, Ms Biran said.