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Palestinian groups ordered to pay $218.5 million to victims of attacks

Don Emmert, AFP I The federal courthouse in Manhattan, New York on October 23, 2014.

A US jury ordered the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) on Monday to pay $218.5 million for supporting deadly terrorist attacks in the Jerusalem area more than a decade ago.

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The verdict in a Manhattan federal court added a new dimension to the long-running Middle East conflict as American victims of terrorist attacks sought to use US courts to seek damages.

Jurors found in favour of 10 American families suing over six attacks attributed to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas. The award could be tripled under the US Anti-Terrorism Act.

Victims and their families had requested more than $350 million for a series of shootings and bombings from 2002 to 2004 that killed 33 people and injured more than 450 others.

“Now the PLO and the PA know there is a price for supporting terrorism,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, in an interview after the verdict.

Both Palestinian groups said they will appeal the ruling, and it is unclear whether victims would ever be able to collect.

Neither of the defendants was immediately available to comment.

The trial began six weeks ago and 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 terrorism pursue damages in federal court.

Last September, a federal jury in Brooklyn found Arab Bank Plc liable for providing material support to Hamas.

In the PLO case, lawyers for the plaintiffs claimed that late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and his agents routinely arranged for attackers to be paid, kept attackers on Palestinian payrolls and made payments to families of attackers who died.

Lawyers for the PLO and the Palestinian Authority said both entities condemned the attacks and blamed them on rogue, low-level employees.

Palestinians wish to form a state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Palestine has since 2012 been a United Nations “observer state” and Palestinians are expected soon to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), which last month launched a preliminary inquiry that could lead to war crimes charges against Israel.

The ICC's preliminary probe also raises the possibility that Palestinian groups may face prosecution for rocket attacks on Israel launched by militant groups in Gaza.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

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