The grandfather of a six-year-old boy, who was the sole survivor of a cable car crash in northern Italy in May, has been placed under house arrest in Israel on suspicion of kidnapping the child over the weekend.
Prosecutors in the northern Italian city of Pavia accused the grandfather, Shmuel Peleg (58), of kidnapping Eitan Biran, whose parents were killed in the accident, and flying him back to Israel on a private jet against the wishes of Aya Biran, the paternal aunt of the child, an Israeli-born doctor in Italy.
The boy’s paternal relatives, who were assigned the custody of the child, have petitioned a family court in Tel Aviv asking for his return.
Earlier this week, Eitan’s mother’s family claimed the boy had been returned to Israel “as his parents wanted,” and that he was being treated at an Israeli hospital “in light of his complex and sensitive condition, which cannot be detailed”.
The cable car, which took visitors to a mountaintop view of some of northern Italy’s most picturesque lakes and the surrounding Alps of Italy’s Piedmont region, plummeted to the ground and then tumbled down the slope, killing 14 people.
Among the victims were Eitan’s father and mother, his one-year-old brother and his great-grandparents who were on a family visit to Italy.
Even though Italian authorities assigned Eitan’s custody to his aunt, disagreements emerged between Eitan’s paternal and maternal relatives, with the latter accusing the former of keeping the child “hostage,” and of disregarding his Israeli and Jewish identity.
Though Eitan was raised in Italy, relatives in Israel claimed that the child’s Israeli parents had never wanted him to grow up there.
The grandfather, who held the boy’s Israeli passport in defiance of an Italian court order to hand it over to the aunt, visited Eitan in Italy on Saturday. The Italian daily Corriere Della Sera reported that Mr Peleg drove with his grandchild from Italy to the Swiss city of Lugano and from there travelled on a private plane to Israel.
“Eitan’s arrival in Israel was carried out in a legal way and after legal consultations,” Mr Peleg said. His lawyers in Italy said that he had “acted on impulse,” concerned over his grandson’s health, and after being excluded from legal proceedings related to the boy’s custody.
However, an Italian court ruled that Mr Peleg had indeed abducted his grandson.
“It constitutes a violation of the custody rights assigned by law exclusively to the guardian,” the Pavia court statement read, adding that the “complaint has resulted in the registration of a criminal proceeding.”
Israeli police said the investigation is ongoing and Mr Peleg is co-operating fully.