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US jury finds PA, PLO liable for attacks that killed Americans

New York jury orders PA, PLO to pay victims and their families $218 million for alleged involvement in attacks in Jerusalem during Second Intifada
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi testified for the defence, telling the jury, 'We tried to prevent violence from all sides'

A jury in New York on Monday found Palestinian leadership liable for attacks in Jerusalem that killed and injured Americans over a decade ago, awarding victims and their families over $218 million.

Under the US anti-terrorism act, the damages are automatically tripled, meaning that the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) are liable to pay more than $650 million. 

Both defendants said they would appeal, Reuters reported, and maintained that they had nothing to do with the attacks.

The jury reached its verdict following two half-days of deliberations, ending a landmark trial under US district judge George Daniels in New York that lasted more than five weeks.

The six attacks killed 33 people and wounded more than 390 others between January 2002 and January 2004.

The bombings and shootings were allegedly carried out by militants of Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades and Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades - both blacklisted as terrorist organisations in the United States - during the Second Intifada.

The 12-member jury decided unanimously that the PA and PLO were liable on 25 separate counts connected to the six attacks.

They apportioned individual damages ranging from $1 million to $25 million to Americans who were injured or lost loved ones.

The total falls well short of the $1 billion sought by lawyers for 11 plaintiff families when the trial opened in mid-January.

The verdict was the second in less than a year in which a US jury found defendants liable under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which lets US citizens injured by acts of international violence pursue damages in federal court.

Steps against PA assets

Attorney Kent Yalowitz welcomed the verdict.

"This is a great day for our country, it's a great day for those who fight terror, we're so proud of our families who stood up," he told reporters.

"We're so impressed with how seriously the jury took their job, it's really amazing, very humbling."

It remains unclear if and how the PA can pay.

The Palestinian leadership is in serious financial difficulty given that Israel is withholding tax funds it owes the PA in a punitive act in response to Palestine’s move to join the International Criminal Court.

Mahmoud Khalifa, Palestinian deputy information minister, expressed dismay at the verdict and vowed to appeal what he called "baseless" charges.

He said the case was politically motivated by "anti-peace factions" in Israel to block a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We are confident that we will prevail, as we have faith in the US legal system and are certain about our common sense belief and our strong legal standing," he said in a statement.

Israeli lawyer Nitsana Darshan-Leitner told reporters in New York that she would leave no stone unturned in forcing the Palestinians to pay.

"Now the Palestinian Authority knows there is a price for sending suicide bombers to our malls, to our cafes and blowing our buses up, and we will pursue and will make sure that the PA will pay every dollar," she said.

"We're going to take steps against their assets, they have assets in the United States, in Israel. We're going to go after bank accounts and money that they are getting paid on a monthly basis in Israel, for instance."

Defence attorneys would not comment after the verdict.

"There is no conclusive evidence that the senior leadership of the PA or PLO were involved in planning or approving specific acts of violence," lawyer Mark Rochon had argued in court last week.

Lawyers for the PA contended that the leadership should not be held responsible for "crazy and terrible" attacks carried out by people who acted independently.

He said the plaintiffs "exaggerated" testimony to make the PA "look bad" based in part on Israeli intelligence.

PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi testified for the defence, telling the jury, "We tried to prevent violence from all sides," the New York Times reported.

The Palestinians also sought to argue that New York did not have jurisdiction to hear the case just because the PLO maintains a small office in the US.

The plaintiffs argued that the PA and PLO be held responsible for providing material support to the groups responsible for the attacks, blacklisted as a foreign terrorist organisation in the United States.

The court also heard that members of the two groups were on the payroll of the two organizations.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman hailed the jury decision as a "moral victory".

"This decision constitutes above all a moral victory for the state of Israel and for victims of terrorism,"  Lieberman said.

The six attacks took place against Hebrew University, in Jaffa Road, King George Street, against the number 19 bus and in French Hills, an illegal settlement in occupied East Jerusalem.

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