THE grandad of a six-year-old boy orphaned in a cable car crash who took him to Israel in a private jet has denied kidnapping the child.
Shmulik Peleg, the father Eitan Biran’s mum, is now engaged in a bitter custody battle with the boy’s paternal relatives.
The boy was the only one of 15 on board to survive after a cable snapped, sending the gondola tumbling down Mount Mottarone near Stresa, Italy.
Eitan lost his mum Tal, 26, dad Amit, 30, two-year-old brother Tom and great-grandparents Itshak and Barbara Cohen in the disaster on May 23.
Italian juvenile court officials ruled the child would live with a paternal aunt Aya Biran-Nirko near Pavia, in northern Italy.
But relatives in Italy claim the child was flown without their permission to Israel .
Peleg, 58, acknowledged in an interview with Israel’s Channel `12 he drove the child from Italy into Switzerland before flying him back to Israel but said “we departed in a totally legal way”.
“I believe that one day Eitan will grow up and say grandfather, you did everything for me, you saved me,” a tearful Mr Peleg said.
“And my daughter, who one day will meet me in heaven, will be proud of me that I saved her son.”
Peleg said he didn’t take a regular flight out of Italy because he wanted to travel with the child as fast as possible without exposing him to other people.
The Israeli authorities had approved his and Eitan’s passports the day before they made the journey, he said.
Eitan is now the focus of a custody battle between his maternal grandparents in Israel and his paternal relatives in Italy.
His relatives in Israel deny abducting him and insist they are acting in his interest.
Two of the child’s paternal relatives met with Eitan in Israel on Saturday at his grandfather’s home, The Times of Israel reports.
Eitan’s uncle Hagai and his wife said via their lawyers that although the child seemed to be physically well “it was worrying to see that little Eitan showed clear signs of incitement and brainwashing”.
Italian authorities also opened an investigation this week and Aya Biran has filed a formal request with the Italian courts seeking Eitan’s return to Italy.
She had also told police that Peleg last Saturday had failed to return Eitan to her home as agreed.
Since leaving hospital in June, the youngster has been living with his aunt, so he can also spend time with a six-year-old cousin, whom he is close to.
She said the boy has been undergoing both physical therapy and psychotherapy since his hospital release.
Eitan was due to have follow-up medical visits this week, including one in Turin.
“His bed is empty, his toys and clothes were left behind.
“His new desk, school backpack, notebooks, pencil case and books were ready for his first day of class on Monday,” the distraught woman said.
His bed is empty, his toys and clothes were left behind
The aunt contended that when the maternal grandfather had come to pick him up for an arranged visit on Saturday morning, it was agreed that the boy would be back by dinner.
But after Eitan didn’t return, his concerned aunt filed a police report on Saturday night, Italian news reports said.
The boy reportedly has both Israeli and Italian passports.
The Times reports that the lawyer Aya’s lawyer, Armando Simbari, alleged: “This was a real international kidnapping.
“[Aya] Biran-Nirko was given guardianship by two courts who wanted Eitan to have continuity in his life.”
He added: “After the aggressive demands by the Pelegs, the courts here ordered the grandfather to hand over Eitan’s Italian passport by August 30, which he didn’t. They alerted frontier authorities to ensure he didn’t try and leave with Eitan.
“The fact he got through makes us think he used a private jet. Now we hope international treaties with Israel can get him back.”
According to the paternal relatives, the maternal family had challenged in Italian courts the custody arrangement that let Eitan live with Aya, who is a doctor with her own children.
In August, the Sun Online reported that his Aunt Gali – who also claimed to be Eitan’s guardian – had accused Aya of “kidnap”.
Tal’s sister Gali warned last month that she would be taking legal action so her nephew could have a “normal” life in Israel.
She claimed then: “He was abducted by relatives who don’t know him at all.
“She [Aya Biran-Nirko] was not close to him in any way. The family there won’t take him to a park or out to eat, things we have done so he feels he has a family.”
Gali said her sister valued the family’s Jewish and Israeli identity and she fears it will be eroded if the boy grows up in Italy.
Tal and Amit were living in Italy with their children while he finished his medicine degree.
Eitan is said to speak good Italian and had been attending a local school in Pavia run by Roman Catholic nuns.
Eitan suffered injuries to his skull, chest, and abdomen in the Mottarone tragedy but survived after his father shielded him with his own body.
When he woke from his coma days later he asked his aunt at his bedside: “Where’s mummy? Where are my parents?”
The family had been heading to a beauty spot above Lake Maggiore when the cable car suddenly plunged near the top of the 4,900ft mountain.