JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police questioned the grandfather of a young boy who was the sole survivor of a deadly cable car crash in northern Italy earlier this year, on suspicion of kidnapping on Tuesday.
Eitan Biran, age 6, is the focus of a bitter custody battle between his maternal grandparents in Israel and his paternal relatives in Italy. In May, his parents and younger sibling were among 14 killed when a cable car slammed into a mountainside in northern Italy.
Eitan and his parents were living in Italy at the time of the accident, and after his release from a Turin hospital following weeks of treatment for critical injuries, Italian juvenile court officials ruled the child would live with a paternal aunt near Pavia, in northern Italy.
His Italian relatives claim the boy was flown without their permission to Israel over the weekend. Italian daily Corriere della Sera said his maternal grandfather drove Eitan in a rented car to Lugano, Switzerland, where they boarded a chartered flight to Tel Aviv.
Italian authorities also opened an investigation this week. The boy's paternal aunt, Aya Biran, filed a formal request with the Italian court system seeking Eitan's return to Italy. She had also told police that the maternal grandfather on Saturday had failed to return Eitan to her home as agreed. Eitan's Israeli relatives deny abducting him and insist they are acting in his interest.
Israeli police said in a statement they received a complaint about the kidnapping of a minor from custody in connection with Eitan's case. It said investigators questioned a 58-year-old resident of the central city of Petah Tikva on suspicion of involvement in the case, and that the investigation was ongoing.
Eitan's maternal relatives said in a statement that Shmulik Peleg, Eitan’s grandfather, cooperated with police investigators and was released on house arrest until Friday.
“Bringing Eitan to Israel was done in a legal manner after legal consultations,” the grandfather said in a statement to the press.
Italian news agency LaPresse quoted the Israeli ambassador to Italy, Dror Eydar as saying: “The heart breaks in the face of the latest and surprising developments tied to the child Eitan Biran."
Associated Press writer Frances D’Emilio contributed from Rome.