Man suspected of kidnapping boy from Italy questioned in Israel

·2 min read

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israeli police questioned a suspect on Tuesday over the alleged kidnapping of a six-year-old boy who was the only survivor of an Italian cable car disaster and is now at the centre of a custody battle.

Eitan Biran's parents, younger brother and 11 other people all died when a gondola plunged to the ground in northern Italy in May.

The boy moved in with his paternal aunt, Aya Biran, in northern Italy. On Saturday his maternal grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, picked him up for a planned family trip but they never returned, the aunt told reporters.

Italian media said they had driven across the nearby border to Switzerland and flown on a private jet to Tel Aviv.

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

The statement did not identify the suspect, who was released under restrictions. Israeli media reports said the grandfather had been questioned.

Earlier in the day, the boy's family in Italy filed a petition in a Tel Aviv family court for his return. Their Israeli lawyer, Shmuel Moran, said the court had set a hearing for Sept. 29. It is required to make a ruling within six weeks.

Peleg's lawyers have acknowledged that he took the boy to Israel. They said he had "acted on impulse" after being excluded from legal proceedings related to the boy's custody, and had been worried about his grandson's health.

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

Israeli media reported that Eitan's maternal aunt, Gali Peleg, who filed for adoption last August, asserting that the boy was being held hostage, had denied committing any crime.

"We did not kidnap him. We brought him home ... I am only speaking to clarify that we have acted for the good of Eitan," she was quoted as telling Israel's 103 FM radio station.

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 Jeffrey Heller and Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Crispian Balmer in Rome; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Kevin Liffey)

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