Israel advances Western Wall train plan
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Israel advances Western Wall train plan

Transportation minister orders planning, feasibility studies into extending Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed line to include Old City station

This file photo taken on October 19, 2016 shows Jewish worshippers performing the annual Cohanim prayer (priest's blessing) at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on October 19, 2016. (AFP/Gil COhen-Magen)
This file photo taken on October 19, 2016 shows Jewish worshippers performing the annual Cohanim prayer (priest's blessing) at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on October 19, 2016. (AFP/Gil COhen-Magen)

Israel has advanced a plan to extend a high-speed rail line to include a Western Wall station, the transport ministry said Wednesday, despite the intense controversy it would likely provoke.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) has ordered planning and feasibility studies for the project, a ministry spokeswoman told AFP.

Katz said in November that he wanted to extend a high-speed rail line currently being built between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to include a Western Wall station.

At the time, the Palestinian Authority denounced it as a “colonial project”.

The Western Wall is located in the ancient Old City in East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967 and later annexed in a move not recognized by the international community.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz poses for a picture during a ceremony to open the new Harel tunnels on the Route 1 Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway on January 19, 2017. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz poses for a picture during a ceremony to open the new Harel tunnels on the Route 1 Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway on January 19, 2017. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

It is in an area at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the Western Wall located just below the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.

The Western Wall is considered one of the last remnants of the Second Jewish Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

While Israel sees all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, the Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Under the train plan, a tunnel would be dug up to 80 meters (262 feet) deep to connect the central station at the entrance to Jerusalem to the Western Wall station.

Construction of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv express train, seen outside of Jerusalem on December 20, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Construction of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv express train, seen outside of Jerusalem on December 20, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The cost of the project has been estimated at some $510 million (474 million euros), according to the ministry spokeswoman.

Two options are being studied, with one seeing the train arrive outside of the Old City near the Dung Gate, close to the Western Wall. The other could see the station built inside the Old City.

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