Arafat faces claims over liner hijack

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Gaza (Reuter) - Yasser Arafat has been ordered by a US court to send it written evidence in a civil suit brought by victims of the hijacking of the cruise liner Achille Lauro in 1985 or be held liable for damages.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, an aide to the PLO leader, said the chairman had no comment on the move.

The ruling, issued by Judge Louis Stanton, said that Mr Arafat must comply with an order in March 1994 to give a deposition at the PLO office in Tunisia or other location by 15 January or be held liable for damages in the hijacking.

Mr Arafat has denied involvement in the hijacking, in which Palestinians commandeered the Achille Lauro off Port Said on 7 October 1985. A Jewish- American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, was shot in the head and tossed overboard in his wheelchair. His body washed ashore in Syria.

The PLO has said that a splinter group that opposed Mr Arafat - the Palestine Liberation Front, led by Abul Abbas - carried out the hijacking.

The ruling by Judge Stanton was issued in favour of Crown Travel, of New Jersey, which is being sued by victims of the hijacking. It named the PLO as a third-party defendant.

Ramsey Clark, a former US attorney-general who is representing the PLO in the case, said on Wednesday that negotiations with victims' families were "progressing".

The judge has said while the PLO showed an apparent willingness several times in 1994 to set a deposition date and venue, 20 months had elapsed without compliance.