The Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were found liable on Monday by a U.S. court for attacks in the West Bank over 10 years ago, according to media reports. The two Palestinian groups were being tried by the Federal District Court in Manhattan, New York for their role in a series of attacks in and around Jerusalem between 2002 and 2004, when over 30 people, including some Americans, were killed.
Under the provisions of the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, the total damages are set at $655 million -- triple the amount of the original damages -- as the attacks were considered an act of terrorism, The New York Times reported. The verdict has ended a protracted legal battle that spanned over a decade.
The Palestinian groups said they planned to appeal the decision, which Mahmoud Khalifa, the Palestinian Authority's deputy minister of information, reportedly called a “tragic disservice” to Palestinians and the international community.
“This case is just the latest attempt by hard-line anti-peace factions in Israel to use and abuse the U.S. legal system to advance their narrow political and ideological agenda,” he added.
In at least two previous cases where they were set to pay over $200 million, the groups reached confidential settlements, according to the Times report.
The fines are likely to put a strain on the finances of the Palestinian Authority -- the governing body in the West Bank -- as it is already reeling under Israel's decision to freeze $200 million in tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Authority, Reuters reported.
The suit against the Palestinian groups, and another case against the Jordan-based Arab bank, were stuck for years as they became embroiled in a dispute over jurisdiction, with the defendants challenging American courts’ authority over incidents that took place outside the U.S.
In a statement, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said both defendants would appeal the case, and called the allegations “baseless,” Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the decision in a statement and criticized the Palestinian Authority. “Instead of drawing the requisite lesson, the Palestinian Authority is advancing steps that endanger regional stability ... we 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 and to back the countries that are fighting terrorism.”