TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — An Israeli court Monday ordered a 6-year-old boy who survived a cable car crash in Italy to be returned to his relatives there, who have been locked in a bitter custody battle with family members in Israel.
The court ordered Eitan Biran returned to “the place of his normal residence, which is Italy." It ordered his grandfather, who had brought him to Israel against the wishes of his family members in Italy, to pay around $20,000 in expenses and attorney fees.
Biran’s parents and younger sibling were among 14 killed in May when a cable car slammed into a mountainside in northern Italy. He has been the focus of a custody battle between his maternal grandparents in Israel and his paternal relatives in Italy.
Biran’s paternal relatives say he was taken without their knowledge and they had filed a legal complaint in Italy seeking his return.
His grandfather, Shmulik Peleg, has defended his decision to spirit the boy away, saying it was in the child's best interest. He drove Biran to Switzerland without the other relatives' knowledge before flying him back to Israel.
Eitan and his parents were living in Italy at the time of the accident. After his release from a Turin hospital following weeks of treatment, Italian juvenile court officials ruled the child would live with a paternal aunt, Aya Biran, near Pavia, in northern Italy.
In Monday's ruling, Judge Iris Ilotovich-Segal of the Tel Aviv family court said Biran's residence was in Italy, where his family moved when he was only a month old. She concluded that his relocation to Israel was unlawful and violated the guardianship rights of his aunt.
The judge also called on the family to reconcile, saying “there is supreme importance in focusing on the medical and emotional condition of the minor and giving him the support, treatment and embrace he needs following the tragedy that befell him and his family.”
The Peleg family said the decision doesn’t address questions concerning “the well-being and future of the child.” In a statement, they said they would “continue to fight in all ways possible for Eitan’s benefit, welfare and rights to grow up in Israel as his parents hoped.”
Biran's paternal relatives welcomed the ruling in a statement, saying “there are no victors and no vanquished, no winners and no losers.”
"There is only Eitan. All that we ask now is that Eitan returns home quickly, to friends and to school, to his family and especially to the therapeutic and educational frameworks that he needs.”
Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed.
Audrey Horowitz, The Associated Press