Israeli grandfather says he saved, not kidnapped, his grandson in Italy

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The grandfather of a six-year-old boy who is the sole survivor of an Italian cable car disaster has said he is looking after his grandson’s well-being by bringing him to Israel against the wishes of the boy’s family in Italy.

Eitan Biran’s parents, younger brother and 11 others all died when a gondola collapsed in northern Italy in May. He is now at the center of a custody battle.

The boy moved in with his paternal aunt, Aya Biran, in northern Italy after the accident. A week ago his maternal grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, picked him up for a planned family trip, but they never returned, according to the aunt.

Italian media said Peleg crossed the neighboring border with his grandson to Switzerland and flew on a private jet to Tel Aviv.

“What’s good for the boy outweighs my personal interests,” Peleg said when told in an interview on Israeli channel 12 that Italian authorities are calling his action a kidnapping.

“So I decided to save the boy and bring him to Israel,” Peleg said in the television interview that aired Friday. “I took a car, a KIA. I drove with Eitan. Passports were checked at the Embassy in Switzerland. Approved. And we took off in a completely legal manner to Israel.

The boy’s family in Italy have filed a petition in Tel Aviv family court for his return. Their Israeli lawyer said the court had set a hearing for September 29. He has to make a decision within six weeks.

A forensic source said prosecutors in the city of Pavia in northern Italy have opened a kidnapping investigation. The prosecution declined to comment.

Israel Police said they received a complaint that a minor was kidnapped and airlifted to Israel, and interviewed an unidentified 58-year-old man suspected of being involved.

When asked why he hadn’t waited for an Italian court to make a decision, Peleg said: “I have to say that I have lost faith in the Italian justice system.”

Peleg’s family, through a public relations firm, said in a statement earlier that the Italian consul in Israel had come to Peleg’s home to meet with Eitan.

“The consul’s message was that the foreign ministries were working to try to find a compromise between the families,” the statement said.

Magistrates are still investigating why the cable car, on a line connecting Stresa on the shores of Lake Maggiore to the nearby mountain of Mottarone, collapsed.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Lee Marzel; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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