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The Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority backed a series of terrorist attacks in the early 2000s in Israel that killed or wounded Americans, a U.S. jury found Monday in awarding hundreds of millions of dollars in damages at a high-stakes civil trial.
The case has been viewed as one of the most notable attempts by American victims of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to use U.S. courts to seek damages, and the verdict is a setback for the Palestinians' image as they seek to rally international support for their independence and to push for war crime charges against Israel.
The damages could be a financial blow to the cash-squeezed Palestinian Authority, though the Palestinian authorities plan to appeal and the plaintiffs may face challenges in trying to collect.
In finding the Palestinian entities liable in the attacks, a Manhattan federal jury awarded the victims $218.5 million in damages for the bloodshed in attacks that killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more — damages their lawyers said would automatically be tripled under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act.
Palestinian Authority Deputy Minister of Information Dr. Mahmoud Khalifa called the verdict "a tragic disservice" to Palestinians and to the international community in working toward a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "The charges that were made against us are baseless," he said.
The victims' lawyers called the jury's decision a win in the fight against terrorism. "It's about accountability. It's about justice," attorney Kent Yalowitz said.
While the Israeli government said it had no involvement in the case, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said officials "expect the responsible elements in the international community to continue to punish those who support terrorism, just as the U.S. federal court has done."
The suit against the PLO and Palestinian Authority — and another case in Brooklyn federal court against the Jordan-based Arab Bank — had languished for years as the defendants challenged the American courts' jurisdiction.
Recent rulings found they should go forward under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows victims of U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations to seek compensation for pain and suffering, loss of earnings and other hardship.
While the Palestinian Authority has settled some suits concerning U.S. citizens' killings, this was the first case in which it defended an Anti-Terrorism Act suit through a trial, the plaintiffs' lawyers said.
— The Associated Press