JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli court has ordered a 6-year-old boy who survived a cable car crash in Italy to be returned to his relatives there amid a bitter custody battle between them and his family in Israel.
The court on Monday ordered Eitan Biran returned to “the place of his normal residence, which is Italy.” It ordered his grandfather, who had flown 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 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, and 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.”
There was no immediate comment from his maternal grandparents.
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.”