NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Police in Cyprus have arrested an Israeli man wanted by Italy for having helped spirit the 6-year-old lone survivor of a cable car accident out of Italy and to Israel, authorities said on Friday.
Eitan Biran was the sole survivor of the May 23 cable car crash in northern Italy that killed 14 people, including his parents and younger brother. Ever since, he has been the focus of a custody battle between his maternal grandparents in Israel and his paternal relatives in Italy.
Earlier this month, an Italian judge issued an arrest warrant for Gabriel Abutbul Alon, who is accused of having driven the car on Sept. 11 that spirited Eitan from his home near Pavia, Italy to Switzerland. Also named in the arrest warrant was Eitan’s maternal grandfather, Shmulik Peleg, who was also in the car and then flew with Eitan to his home in Israel aboard a private jet.
Asked about Alon’s arrest, Cypriot police said Friday they had arrested a 50-year-old suspect in the custody case at a hotel in the coastal resort town of Limassol on Thursday on the strength of a European arrest warrant. Law enforcement officials said they believed Alon’s extradition to Italy could take some time if he opts to fight it during court proceedings.
An Israeli court has ordered Eitan to be returned to his relatives in Italy, ruling his relocation to Israel was unlawful and ordering Peleg to pay around $20,000 in expenses and attorney fees. But Israel’s Supreme Court earlier this month ordered a freeze on Eitan’s return until it decides whether to hear an appeal by the Peleg family members.
Eitan and his parents were living in Italy at the time of the accident. After his release from a Turin hospital following weeks of treatment, Italian juvenile court officials ruled the child would live with a paternal aunt, Aya Biran, near Pavia, in northern Italy.