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US Court Overturns Ruling on Persian Artifacts

An ancient Persian tablet, about 2,500 years old, containing administrative details on the Persian empire, is seen at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago (file photo)

A U.S. appeals court has reversed a lower court ruling that could have led to the seizure of Persian artifacts in two U.S. museums to pay damages for victims of a 1997 bomb attack in Israel.

Tuesday's ruling overturned a lower court decision that allowed the plaintiffs to search for any Iranian assets in the United States to be used to pay a $71 million judgment against Iran.

The case was filed by American victims of the attack that killed five people in Jerusalem and injured about 200 others. The plaintiffs won their judgment against Iran arguing the country provided training to members of the Islamist group Hamas. The plaintiffs sought to find Iranian assets in the U.S. to collect the judgment.

The artifacts were owned by or on loan to Chicago's Field Museum and the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. The museums argued that the artifacts qualified for immunity under U.S. law.

The appeals court ruling sends the case back to a lower court to consider the sovereign immunity exemption. Iran initially refused to appear in court to assert its sovereign rights.

The National Iranian American Council says the artifacts are part of the cultural heritage of Iran and not the property of the Iranian government - and should not be subject to seizure.

Lawsuits are also targeting collections at Harvard University and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.