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

·2 min read

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The grandfather of a six-year-old boy who is the only survivor of an Italian cable car disaster said he was looking out for his grandson's wellbeing by bringing him to Israel against the will of the boy's family in Italy.

Eitan Biran's parents, younger brother and 11 other people all died when a gondola plunged to the ground in northern Italy in May. He is now at the centre 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 had driven with his grandson across the nearby border to Switzerland and flown on a private jet to Tel Aviv.

"What is good for the boy outweighs my personal interests," Peleg said when told during an interview on Israel's Channel 12 that Italian authorities are calling his action kidnapping.

"So I decided that I am saving the boy and bringing him to Israel," Peleg said during the TV interview that aired on Friday. "I took a car, a KIA. I drove with Eitan. The 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 has filed a petition in a Tel Aviv family court for his return. Their Israeli lawyer said the court had set a hearing for Sept. 29. It is required to make a ruling within six weeks.

A legal source has said prosecutors in the northern Italian city of Pavia had opened a kidnapping investigation. The prosecutors' office declined to comment.

Israeli police have said they had received a complaint that a minor had been kidnapped and flown to Israel, and had questioned an unidentified 58-year-old man on suspicion of involvement.

Asked why he did not wait for an Italian court to make a decision, Peleg said "I must say that I lost faith in the Italian judicial system."

Peleg's family, through a public relations firm, said earlier in a statement that the Italian consul in Israel came to Peleg's house to meet with Eitan.

"The message from the consul was that the foreign ministries are working to try to find a compromise between the families," according to the statement.

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

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

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