JERUSALEM (AP) - The bitter custody battle over a 6-year-old boy who survived a cable car crash in Italy inched forward in Israel on Thursday with a hearing in family court.
Eitan Biran's relatives on both sides attended the session in Tel Aviv, in a legal fight that spans both countries where his remaining relatives reside. Eitan's immediate family was among 14 people killed when the cable car carrying them crashed into a mountainside in May. The child's survival sparked an immediate international dispute between his maternal and paternal families.
Members of both families met in family court in Tel Aviv on Thursday, a next step in the dispute. Those present included Eitan's aunt Aya Biran, who lives in Italy and has filed a formal request with the Italian court system seeking Eitan's return to Italy. Also attending Thursday's hearing was the child's grandfather, Shmulik Peleg, who spirited the boy away to Israel.
Eitan's relatives in Italy say he was taken without their knowledge and are seeking his return. The child's relatives in Israel have denied to local media that they abducted Eitan and insist they are acting in his interest.
Peleg has acknowledged driving the child from Italy into Switzerland before flying him back to Israel, telling Channel 12 that "we departed in a totally legal way."
Peleg was questioned by Israeli police on kidnapping suspicions and placed under house arrest pending an ongoing investigation.
Italian authorities also have opened an investigation. Peleg told Israel's Channel 12 that he had given up on contesting custody in the Italian court system and said he expected the boy to understand once he got older.
"I believe that one day Eitan will grow up and say grandfather, you did everything for me, you saved me," he said, breaking into tears. "And my daughter, who one day will meet me in heaven, will be proud of me that I saved her son."