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Palestinians Sue U.S. Company That Supplied Tear Gas To Israel

December 19, 1991

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Relatives of eight Palestinians who died after Israeli troops fired tear gas at them filed suit Thursday against the company that made the gas and sold it to Israel.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court alleges that Federal Laboratories Inc. of Saltsburg, Pa., was negligent in selling tear gas to Israel because company officials knew it had caused deaths during the Palestinian uprising.

The 61 plaintiffs contend Federal Laboratories and its parent company, TransTechnology Corp. of Sherman Oaks, Calif., are liable for the deaths of eight Palestinians between January 1990 and May 1991.

″TransTechnology and Federal Laboratories are guilty of the worst kind of negligence and indifference, the kind that results in the deaths of innocent people,″ said Beth Stephens, an attorney for Center for Constitutional Rights, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Palestinians.

Federal Laboratories issued a statement saying it hadn’t received a copy of the lawsuit and that company policy was to refrain from commenting on pending litigation.

But the company’s president, Robert Tunno, confirmed that tear gas had been sold to Israel. He declined to say whether the company, located about 25 miles east of Pittsburgh, has a current contract with Israel.

Federal Laboratories manufactures tear gas to be used by law enforcement agencies for crowd dispersal, Tunno said.

TransTechnology said in April 1988 it had ceased sales of tear gas to Israel, but the company left open the option that shipments could resume if TransTechnology was satisfied the tear gas was being used properly.

The lawsuit claims Federal Laboratories resumed business with Israel in August 1988 and continued at least until 1990.

Federal Laboratories said its transactions with foreign governments are regulated by the U.S. State Department. Larry Roeder, who supervises the approval process at the State Department, said he was prohibited by law from discussing whether the company had received permission to sell tear gas to Israel.

Among the victims were a 46-year-old man buying vegetables in a market, a 45-year-old butcher walking out of mosque and a 62-year-old woman sitting on her porch in a refugee camp, the suit says.

Each plaintiff is seeking more than $50,000 in damages. Ms. Stephens said the damages being sought totaled ″many millions″ of dollars.

Israeli Defense Ministry offices were closed when the suit was filed, and spokesmen weren’t immediately available to comment. The Israeli army has defended its use of tear gas, saying it is the best way to disperse large crowds.

The Israeli government has refused to identify its suppliers, and has said it hasn’t been proven that tear gas has caused deaths.

Reports by various human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, contend that exposure to tear gas can be fatal to babies, the elderly and people with respiratory illnesses.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which oversees aid programs for Palestinian refugees, said more than 10,600 Palestinians were injured by tear gas from December 1987 to October 1991. The United Nations attributed at least 44 deaths to the gas as of May 1989.

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