By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization on Tuesday urged a U.S. appeals court to toss a more than $655 million (459.41 million pound) award won by a group of American families who accused them of supporting terrorist attacks in Israel.
A lawyer for the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, the government and diplomatic representative of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, argued to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that the case should never have reached trial.
A U.S. jury in 2015 found the defendants liable under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act in a case that could bolster efforts by Americans to use the law to hold foreign entities responsible in U.S. courts for overseas attacks.
Mitchell Berger, the lawyer representing the Palestinian Authority and PLO, on Tuesday said U.S. District Judge George Daniels incorrectly concluded his court had jurisdiction over the 10 families' claims despite changes in law at the appellate level.
Berger said Daniels was "plainly wrong" in concluding the Palestinian Authority and PLO could be sued in the United States by the families.
"Their own experts said the brunt of the injury, which is the key question, was on Israel, not the United States," he said.
But Kent Yalowitz, the families' lawyer, said U.S. courts had jurisdiction as evidence showed the attacks at issue were partly aimed at influencing U.S. policy and killing Americans.
"There was extensive evidence that the orchestrated terrorism campaign was not only to coerce and intimidate the government of Israel but also to coerce and intimate the government of the United States," he said.
The U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act lets U.S. citizens injured by acts of international terrorism pursue damages in federal court.
Jurors in the February 2015 trial found the PLO and Palestinian Authority liable for six shootings and bombings between 2002 and 2004 in the Jerusalem area, which have been attributed to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas.
Those attacks killed 33 people, including several U.S. citizens, and injured more than 450.
The families claimed late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and his agents routinely arranged for attackers to be paid and made payments to families of attackers who died.
Lawyers for the PLO and Palestinian Authority have said the entities condemned the attacks, which they blamed on rogue low-level employees.
The jury awarded the families $218.5 million, a sum automatically tripled under a U.S. anti-terrorism law to $655.5 million.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Andrew Hay)