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Aug 2, 2000 – The family of an Israeli-American man killed in a 1996 terrorist attack in Jerusalem filed suit in New York yesterday against Syria, contending that it provided critical support to Hamas, the militant Palestinian group whose members carried out the suicide bombing attack.
The suit seeks to hold the government of Syria, the Syrian Defense Ministry and two Syrian officials legally responsible for the attack in which 24 people were killed, including Ira Weinstein, a 53-year-old butcher who lived in Israel for the last decade of his life, and whose family is bringing the suit.
The two Syrians are Mustafa Tlass, the defense minister, and Ghazi Kanaan, the commander of Syrian forces in Lebanon.
In the suit, the Weinstein family says that Syria is liable for Mr. Weinstein's death and the suffering that he and his family endured because Syria provided Hamas terrorists with "material resources" and training to carry out the bombing.
Other American victims of terrorist acts have won monetary damages against Iran and Cuba, but have been unable to collect them because those nations' assets in the United States have been frozen.
Although Syria has appeared on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism for decades, the State Department says it has not been directly engaged in terrorism since 1986. Rather, it says, Syria gives indirect support, by letting Hamas and other groups run bases and take refuge in Damascus or in the Bekaa region in Lebanon, which is under Syrian control.
With that decision from the State Department, Syria is not subject to sanctions as severe as those imposed on Iraq, Iran and other designated state terrorism sponsors. And trade is permitted between the two countries. Therefore Syria has assets in the United States that could be seized if a jury ruled against Syria, the family's lawyers assert.
"We will prove that Syria has supported terrorist actions perpetrated by Hamas," said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, an Israeli lawyer representing the plaintiffs, Susan Weinstein, Ira's Weinstein's widow, and their children, Jennifer, 34, Joseph, 31, and David, 17. "And we hope to dissuade Syria and others from hosting and helping terrorist groups by showing them that the price paid for doing so is far too high."
A spokesman for the Syrian Embassy in Damascus denied that Syria condones or supports terrorism and deplored the killing of civilians throughout the world. "We respect human rights and reject any allegation that we tolerate or sanction terrorism anywhere," a diplomat said.
Lawyers for the Weinstein family are seeking $330 million and punitive damages in compensation for the suffering the family endured when Mr. Weinstein was mortally wounded on a bus that was blown up by a Hamas suicide bomber in Jerusalem in February 1996.
"Ira Weinstein did not immediately die from the bombing," states the complaint, provided to The New York Times by the family's lawyers.
With burns over much of his body, severe lung damage, shrapnel, kidney failure and amputation of both legs, the complaint says, Mr. Weinstein suffered "excruciating and conscious pain for seven weeks before dying." His daughter, Jennifer, a nurse in the ward at the hospital where her father was treated, "witnessed her father's injuries and agony for the entire seven-week period."
The complaint accuses Syria of providing substantial aid to Hamas at the time of the bombing, including training, weapons and explosives storage, safe haven, lodging, means of communication and equipment and financial services. The lawyers said that Hamas's involvement in the suicide bombing was later confirmed by Hassan Salamah, a Hamas member, in statements to an Israeli court that convicted him of helping to plan the bombing.
Jeffrey A. Miller, co-administrator of the Weinstein estate and the family's New York attorney in the lawsuit, said the family filed the suit in Nassau County Supreme Court under a 1996 law that permits American victims of terrorism to sue to recover monetary damages from states that sponsor terrorism or provide "material support or resources" to terrorists.
He said the law does not require his plaintiffs to show that Syria carried out or encouraged the specific bombing that killed Mr. Weinstein, but only that it provided "material support" to the group whose members carried out the act.