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Italian cable car crash lone survivor facing custody battle

ROME – Eitan Biran, the sole survivor of a cable car crash in May that killed 14 people, including his parents, has become the subject of a heated custody dispute, after his paternal parents in Italy accused his maternal grandfather for taking the boy to Israel on weekends without their consent.

Eitan’s parents, a younger brother and two great-grandparents from Israel died on May 23, when a cable snapped as the car arrived at its destination on a peak overlooking Lago Maggiore in the Piedmont. The car suddenly slid backwards before plunging down the mountainside. Eitan, 6, was the only survivor.

The family drama, which has gripped Italy and is playing out publicly in Italian and international media, is only part of the fallout from the disaster, which hit a small lakeside community that saw its economy devastated during the pandemic.

Several people, including the operator of the cable car and the owner of the company that managed it, are under investigation but have not been formally charged.

Aya Biran, the boy’s aunt, was granted custody of the child by an Italian court in Turin in May, while he was still in hospital with serious injuries. Although he has improved, he still needs medical attention, both physical and psychological, according to Ms Biran’s lawyer, Armando Simbari.

But the family of the boy’s paternal parents challenged the custody decision, and in August his grandfather, Schmulik Peleg, hired lawyers to officially challenge it, said Paolo Sevesi, one of the lawyers.

Also in August, a civil court ruled that the boy could not leave Italy if he was not with Ms Biran, according to Mr Simbari.

Mr Simbari said he could not comment on how the boy was taken to Israel, due to the ongoing investigation.

The aunt filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office and on Monday Mr Peleg was investigated for kidnapping, Mr Sevesi said, confirming Italian media information.

The prosecutor did not respond to requests for comment and Mr. Peleg could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mr Simbari, the aunt’s lawyer, said Eitan had been living in Italy since he was one year old and had both Italian and Israeli citizenship. The boy’s mother tongue was Italian, he said, although he also spoke Hebrew.

“We are very concerned because this child has been torn from a familiar environment, so this is a second trauma after the one he experienced in May,” said Mr. Simbari.

Jonathan Shamir contributed reporting from Tel Aviv.

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