ROME – Almost three months after being transported by his grandfather to Israel, triggering an international custody battle, a 6-year-old boy who was the sole survivor of an Italian cable car crash returned to Italy on Friday.
The boy, Eitan Biran, survived a tragic cable car crash in May that killed 14 people, including his parents, and his return to Italy ends a months-long legal clash in Israel over the boy’s guardianship which will continue in Italian courts.
He arrived late Friday on a flight to Milan, Italy, to return to the care of his aunt.
Italian authorities are pursuing kidnapping charges against the boy’s Israeli grandfather and an Israeli described as a former agent for security firm Blackwater Worldwide. They are accused of kidnapping the boy in “a strategic and planned operation”, according to an Italian arrest warrant.
Grandfather Shmuel Peleg picked up Eitan from his aunt Aya Biran in Italy in September for what was supposed to be a toy shopping spree.
But instead of getting Eitan back in time for dinner, as promised, the grandfather drove the boy across the border into Switzerland, then took him to Israel in a private plane.
According to an Italian arrest warrant, Mr Peleg was assisted by Gabriel Alon-Abutbul, who has been described as a former “mercenary working for Blackwater”.
Blackwater Worldwide was a since-sold and renowned private security company that became a symbol of the excesses of US military contractors after four of its guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.
Mr. Peleg was summoned for questioning by the Israeli police, before the warrant was issued, and released on bail. Mr Alon-Abutbul was arrested in Cyprus last month and released.
The alleged kidnapping turned the tragedy into an international custody battle that caught the world’s attention, with relatives in Italy and Israel each claiming to defend Eitan’s best interests, and in civil and criminal matters taking place in both countries.
The boy lost his parents, 2-year-old brother and two great-grandparents on a sunny May weekend afternoon when a cable snapped on a gondola they were riding on Mottarone mountain.
Eitan was injured but survived, and a Turin court appointed Ms Biran as his legal guardian.
Ms Biran, the sister of Eitan’s father, an Israeli who studied medicine in Italy, lives in a small town near Pavia in northern Italy. Eitan had lived with his parents in a nearby town since he was two months old.
Mr Peleg argued that Eitan’s parents had always planned to return to Israel, where Eitan was born and had parents.
However, these issues were not contested in the Israeli Family Court, which considered only whether Mr. Peleg’s taking the boy to Israel violated the provisions of the Hague Convention on the International Kidnapping of minors.
The court ruled in October that it did and ordered Eitan to be returned to Italy. Mr Peleg appealed to the district court, which upheld the lower court’s decision. Israel’s Supreme Court declined to hear the case last month, paving the way for Eitan’s robbery on Friday.
Mr Abutbul-Alon’s alleged involvement raises new questions about how Eitan was taken from Italy.
According to the Italian arrest warrant, planning for the kidnapping began in July, months before Mr Peleg fled to Israel with the boy. This was, according to the mandate, the start of “strategic planning on the part of Shmuel Peleg in partnership with Gabriel Abutbul-Alon” which will end with an abduction.
Under the terms of reference, Mr. Abutbul-Alon coordinated the rental of a private plane that transported Mr. Peleg and Eitan from Lugano, Switzerland, to Israel.
Mr Peleg said in a text that he had received “legal advice in Italy” that no custody had been assigned and that he was free to take the child to Israel.
âUnfortunately, the Israeli court refused to deal with the issue of the best interests of the child, did not agree to approve further medical treatment and did not ask to hear directly the wishes of the child. the child “, the text indicates. âThe court has once again torn Eitan from his large and loving family in Israel, who may not be able to see him from now on. “
Italy requests the extradition of Mr. Peleg from Israel.
Mr. Abutbul-Alon’s lawyer in Israel, Uzi Pinhasi, said Mr. Abutbul-Alon had “acted in accordance with the law in all his business activities”.
“Unfortunately, his name is tarnished without any justification and after he has committed no crime,” Pinhasi said in a text. “I am convinced that at the end of the investigative process, the case against my client will be closed without any indictment being filed against him.”
Israel’s justice ministry declined to comment on Friday.
Upon his return to Italy, lawyers warned the media to respect the boy’s privacy.
“The protagonist is a child and we should put his interests at the center” by easing the media frenzy, said Sara Carsaniga, lawyer for the Peleg family.
Shmuel Moran, an attorney for Ms. Biran, said: âWe are pleased that an Israeli court has established the principle of zero tolerance for child abductions.
“We really hope he will have some peace, at least after any further legal proceedings,” he added.
Eitan was due to return home to northern Italy in time to celebrate the last days of Hanukkah with her family there.
Elisabetta povoledo brought back from Rome, and Ronen bergman from Tel Aviv.