6-year-old in international custody battle, returns to Italy

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ROME – Nearly three months after being taken to Israel by his grandfather where he started an international custody battle, a 6-year-old boy, who was the sole survivor of an Italian cable car accident, returned to Italy on Friday, according to an aunt’s lawyer from the boy.

The boy, Eitan Biran, survived a tragic cable car accident in May that killed 14 people, including his parents, and his return to Italy will end a months-long legal clash in Israel over the child’s custody. will be continued before the Italian courts.

The family’s lawyer said he would arrive late Friday at the airport in Milan, Italy.

Italian authorities are pursuing a kidnapping charge against the boy’s Israeli grandfather and an Israeli man described as a former employee of the security firm Blackwater Worldwide. They are accused of kidnapping the boy in “a strategic and pre-planned operation”, according to an Italian arrest warrant.

The grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, picked up Eitan in September from his aunt, Aya Biran’s home, in Italy, for what was supposed to be a toy store.

But instead of bringing Eitan back in time for dinner, as promised, the grandfather drove the boy across the border to Switzerland and then took him on a private plane to Israel.

According to an Italian arrest warrant, Mr Peleg had help from Gabriel Alon-Abutbul, who was described as a former “mercenary who worked for Blackwater.”

Blackwater Worldwide was a private security company, since it was sold and renamed, that became a symbol of the excesses of US military contractors after four of its guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.

Mr Peleg was summoned for questioning by the Israeli police before the warrant was issued and released on bail. Mr Alon-Abutbul was arrested and released in Cyprus last month.

The alleged kidnapping turned the tragedy into an international custody battle that caught the world’s attention, with relatives in Italy and Israel each claiming to look after Eitan’s interests, and civil and criminal cases in both countries.

The boy lost his parents, his 2-year-old brother and two great-grandparents on a sunny weekend afternoon in May when a cable broke on a gondola they were traveling up Mount Mottarone.

Eitan was injured but survived, and a court in Turin appointed Ms. Biran as his legal guardian.

Ms. Biran, sister of Eitan’s father, an Israeli who studied medicine in Italy, lives in a small town near Pavia, in northern Italy. Eitan had lived with his parents in a nearby town since he was two months old.

Mr. Peleg argued that Eitan’s parents always intended to return to Israel, where Eitan was born and had relatives.

However, these questions were not addressed in the Israeli family court, which merely assessed whether Mr Peleg’s taking the boy to Israel violated the provisions of the Hague Convention on the International Abduction of Minors.

The court ruled in October and ordered Eitan to return to Italy. Mr. Peleg appealed to the court, which upheld the decision of the lower court. Israel’s Supreme Court declined to hear the case last month and cleared the way for Eitan’s flight on Friday.

Mr Abutbul-Alon’s alleged involvement raises new questions about how Eitan was taken from Italy.

According to the Italian arrest warrant, planning for the kidnapping began in July, months before Mr. Peleg to Israel with the boy. This was, according to the order, the beginning of “strategic planning on the part of Shmuel Peleg in conjunction with Gabriel Abutbul-Alon” that would end with a kidnapping.

According to the order, Mr. Abutbul-Alon coordinated the rental of a private plane that flew Mr. Peleg and Eitan from Lugano, Switzerland, to Israel.

Peleg said in a text message that he had received “legal advice in Italy” that no custody had been granted and that he was free to take the child to Israel.

“Unfortunately, the court in Israel would not address the issue of the best interests of the child, did not agree to further medical treatment and did not ask to hear the child’s wishes first hand,” the text read. “The court has once again expelled Eitan from his large and loving family in Israel, who may not be able to see him from now on.”

Italy asks for the extradition of Mr. Peleg through Israel.

Abutbul-Alon’s lawyer in Israel, Uzi Pinhasi, said Mr Abutbul-Alon had “acted in accordance with the law in all his business activities”.

“Unfortunately, his name has been tarnished without any justification and after he has committed no crime,” Mr Pinhasi said in a text message. “I am confident that upon completion of the investigation process, the case against my client will be closed without any charges being brought against him.”

Israel’s Justice Ministry declined to comment on Friday.

As his return to Italy approached, lawyers warned the news media to respect the child’s privacy.

“We are pleased that an Israeli court has established the principle of zero tolerance for child abduction,” said Shmuel Moran, a lawyer for Ms Biran.

“We sincerely hope that he will have some peace of mind, at least from further legal proceedings,” added Mr Moran.

Eitan would return to her home in northern Italy in time to celebrate the last days of Hanukkah with his family.

Elisabetta Povoledo reported from Rome, and Ronen Bergman from Tel-Aviv.

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