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U.S. keeps out of terrorism lawsuits for now

The Bush administration declined for now to intervene in lawsuits against the Palestinian Authority.

A federal court in New York had given the government until Feb. 29 to weigh in on claims by the Palestinian Authority that allowing the survivors of U.S. citizen Aharon Ellis, killed in a 2002 attack in Israel, to claim $174 million awarded in a lawsuit would create a precedent that eventually would bankrupt it at a time that its moderate leadership is facing down extremists and attempting to negotiate peace with Israel.

A letter sent by the Justice Department to the court on Friday declined to file a statement of interest but said it would “continue to monitor this and other cases like it. The United States has not yet decided whether or not to participate in those other cases.”

About another 20 cases, holding the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization ultimately responsible for attacks that killed or maimed American citizens, are at various stages of litigation. The lawsuits derive from legislation passed in the 1990s.

“The United States supports just compensation for victims for terrorism from those responsible for their losses and has encouraged all parties to resolve these cases to their mutual benefit,” the letter said. “At the same time the United States remains concerned about the potentially significant impact that these cases may have on the financial and political viability of the defendants.”

The Bush administration reportedly had leaned initially to intervening on the P.A.’s behalf, but was swayed by recent meetings between families and top Justice Department and State Department lawyers as well as lobbying led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other Jewish groups.

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