Palestinians vow to fight landmark US ruling in terror suit
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Palestinians vow to fight landmark US ruling in terror suit

PLO official Hanan Ashrawi says Ramallah too broke to pay out $218 million in damages to attack victims

Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi speaks during a press conference on February 24, 2015 in the West Bank city of Ramallah. photo credit: AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)
Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi speaks during a press conference on February 24, 2015 in the West Bank city of Ramallah. photo credit: AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)

Leading Palestinian officials vowed Tuesday to fight a landmark US ruling that found the Palestinian leadership responsible for a spate of deadly terrorist attacks in the early 2000s in Israel, with one official calling the verdict “baseless.”

A New York court held the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority guilty Monday for abetting a series of attacks that killed and wounded several Americans, in what analysts say could embroil Ramallah’s statehood bid and set a precedent for further court cases.

The US court ruled that the Palestinian leadership was deemed responsible for six terror attacks over a decade ago that maimed and killed several US citizens.

The jury awarded the victims $218.5 million in damages for the bloodshed, which killed 33 people overall, and wounded more than 390.

Eleven families served as plaintiffs in the case.

FILE - In this July 31, 2002, file photo, workers clean the inside of a cafeteria hours after a bomb exploded at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, killing nine, four of them Americans, and wounding more than 70. (photo credit: AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, File)
FILE – In this July 31, 2002, file photo, workers clean the inside of a cafeteria hours after a bomb exploded at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, killing nine, four of them Americans, and wounding more than 70. (photo credit: AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, File)

Mahmoud Khalifa, deputy Minister of Information in the Palestinian Authority told Ma’an news that he was deeply disappointed by the outcome and suggested that Israeli interest groups were purposely abusing the US legal system in order divert attention from Israeli violations.

Khalifa also assured constituents that the PA would appeal the decree — one that he termed “baseless.”

“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,” Khalifa said.

“The decision is a tragic disservice to the millions of Palestinians who have invested in the democratic process and the rule of law,” he said.

Likewise, Palestinian cabinet ministers denounced the court decision, terming it a “reversal of truth and injustice” against the Palestinian people.

Under US Anti-Terrorism Act, damages awarded in terror related cases could be tripled, a move that would see the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority forced to pay out $655.5 million to the casualties of the terror attacks.

The ruling does not bode well for the Palestinian Authority, which is already struggling to handle a major financial crisis that has been exacerbated by Israel’s freezing of millions of dollars of tax revenues as a punishment for the ICC move.

Even before the ruling Washington had expressed concern that the crisis could lead to the collapse of the Authority.

But it remains a question whether the Palestinian leadership will have to pay the damages.

Israeli lawyer Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who represented the victims, said she would leave no stone unturned in forcing them to pay and would target Palestinian assets in both the United States and Israel.

But senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi told reporters in Ramallah: “We cannot pay. We do not have this money.”

She expressed confidence that as long as the Authority cooperated with the US justice system, it would not have its American assets seized.

She also admitted that the ruling had come at a very bad time.

“This decision comes at a moment when the Authority is fighting for its survival… If it collapses, there will be consequences for the entire world.”

Ashrawi said the US ruling “only reinforces our determination” to pursue international legal action against Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

“We will continue in our quest for justice and we will win,” she said.

The case in Manhattan and another in Brooklyn have been viewed as the most notable attempts by American victims of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to use US courts to seek damages that could reach into the billions of dollars.

The suit against the PLO and Palestinian Authority and another against the Jordan-based Arab Bank had languished for years as the defendants challenged the American courts’ jurisdiction.

Recent rulings found that they should go forward under the Anti-Terrorism Act, a more than 2-decade-old law that allows victims of US-designated foreign terrorist organizations to seek compensation for pain and suffering, loss of earnings and other hardship.

Last year, a Brooklyn jury decided that Arab Bank should be held responsible for a wave of Hamas-orchestrated suicide bombings that left Americans dead or wounded based on claims the financial institution knowingly did business with the terror group.

A separate phase of the Brooklyn trial dealing with damages, set to begin in May, will feature testimony from victims.

AP contributed to this report

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