Israel’s top court has ruled that a six-year-old boy who was the sole survivor of a cable car crash in northern Italy must be returned to relatives there within the next couple of weeks.
Eitan Biran has been at the centre of a bitter custody battle between relatives in Italy and Israel since his parents were killed in the Stresa-Mottarone aerial tramway crash on 23 May.
He was allegedly abducted from the home of his paternal aunt, Aya Biran-Nirko, near Pavia by his maternal grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, on 11 September.
Biran-Nirko was granted temporary custody of Eitan soon after the tragedy, which also claimed the lives of his two-year-old brother and maternal great-grandparents.
Lawyers for Biran-Nirko said the verdict, which upheld a ruling by a lower court in October, marked “the end of an unfortunate episode”. The boy must be returned to Italy by 12 December.
Meanwhile, the Peleg family pledged to continue to fight “in every legal way” to have him brought back to Israel.
According to reports in the Italian press, the supreme court said Eitan had lived in Italy most of his life and could not be removed from his “habitual residence”.
The court said his parents had chosen to settle indefinitely in Italy and that Peleg “did not provide a valid reason why the return to Italy could cause psychological or physical damage to the child”.
Italian police issued an international arrest warrant for Peleg after the alleged abduction, and last week his alleged accomplice, Gabriel Abutbul Alon, was arrested in Cyprus.
Eitan was driven across the Italian border to the Swiss city of Lugano, from where he was taken by private plane to Tel Aviv. Peleg and Alon are wanted by Italian police on charges of kidnapping, abduction and “sequestration abroad of a minor”.
Biran, who received injuries to his head and legs in the crash, went to live with Biran-Nirko after being discharged from hospital in June, and had been due to start school two days after the alleged kidnap.
His parents were Israeli but he had been living in Italy since he was one month old and has dual Israeli/Italian nationality. His paternal relatives claimed he had been taken away against their wishes and immediately filed a petition for his return to Italy. Peleg argued he had acted in the boy’s best interests.
The cable car crash, which killed 14 people including a six-year-old Italian boy, is believed to have happened when a lead cable snapped, causing the cabin to hurtle backwards before falling about 20 metres into a wooded area below. The cabin was just a few metres away from Monte Mottarone, its destination almost 1,500 metres above sea level, when the crash happened.