A federal judge has ruled the Palestinian Liberation Organization (more news | Web) should be held accountable for not responding to a lawsuit filed on behalf of an American man and his Israeli wife who were slain near the West Bank.

Experts say the April 18 ruling, released Wednesday by the court, could ultimately hold the PLO responsible for the killings and allow the plaintiffs to extract damages.

The order from Magistrate Judge David L. Martin is subject to a hearing on May 14. But it effectively ends a prolonged series of objections by the PLO and the Palestinian Authority to plaintiffs' efforts to link those entities to the killings.

"It means we're getting closer and closer to an ultimate judgment," said David Strachman, a Providence attorney and executor of the couple's estate.

But the PLO has indicated it will ignore the order. At a hearing earlier this month, PLO lead attorney and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark said he traveled to Ramallah and met with Arafat at his battered compound in mid-December specifically on this matter, and was told not to respond.

"We can probably file an answer, but the fact is that to file an answer would cross the line," Clark said, according to a court transcript obtained by the Associated Press.

Yaron Ungar and his wife Efrat, both 25, were killed by the Palestinian militant group Hamas in a drive-by shooting near the West Bank in 1996. The suit was filed in 2000 on behalf of their two children and seeks $250 million.

The Anti-Terrorism Act of 1991 (more news | Web) allows American victims of overseas terrorism to seek monetary damages in U.S. courts.