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Palestinians warn bringing train to Western Wall will ‘explode’ conflict

Ramallah also says scheme to connect Jerusalem light rail to settlements will turn lives into ‘unbearable hell’

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

A view of the tunnels and bridges under construction along the route of the express train between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, on February 6, 2014. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
A view of the tunnels and bridges under construction along the route of the express train between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, on February 6, 2014. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Palestinian officials said Wednesday reported plans to extend a train line to the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s highly sensitive Old City have the potential to lead to a dangerous conflagration, while also slamming a proposal to run the capital’s light rail to several settlements surrounding the city.

On Tuesday, the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz was floating a plan to extend the new express train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem into the heart of the capital, where it would reach the holy site of Western Wall.

The line would be extended via a tunnel that would skirt the Old City and end near the sacred site.

In a statement, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry called on the international community and the United Nations, particularly UNESCO and the UN Security Council, to take action to thwart “this dangerous settlement escalation, which threatens to explode” the conflict.

UNESCO recently passed a resolution condemning Israeli construction projects in the Old City, which Palestinians claim as territory for their future state, as well as casting doubt over Jewish links to the Temple Mount and Western Wall, Judaism’s two holiest sites.

Katz reportedly said that the extension of the line would relieve pressure on the main Jerusalem train station that is currently being built at the western entrance to the city, and make it easier for tourists, students and others to reach the Western Wall directly from the Tel Aviv region.

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The Palestinians also spoke out against a scheme to extend the Jerusalem light rail to settlements around Jerusalem, saying it “threatens to turn [Palestinian] lives into an unbearable hell.”

Katz revealed the plans Tuesday for four new stops on Jerusalem’s inter-city light rail, which he said would link the nearby Israeli settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim, Adam, Atarot, and Givat Ze’ev.

A fifth new line is slated to connect the town of Mevaseret Zion with Jerusalem, according to a Channel 2 report.

The Palestinian Ministry said the new light rail stations “would undermine territorial continuity of the West Bank and transform it into disconnected cantons, making it impossible for the Palestinians to continue to live there.”

In a press statement, the ministry said it “condemns in the strongest terms” the “colonial and Judiazation” plans presented by Katz, claiming they are aimed at annexing Israeli settlements in the West Bank and linking them up with Jerusalem.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on September 4, 2016 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on September 4, 2016 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Palestinian statement warns of “disastrous consequences for this expansion project,” which it said would “undermine any chance for peace.”

The city’s one current light rail line, opened in 2011, runs through East Jerusalem over Palestinian objections. City officials say the line is key to unifying the city, though it is a frequent target of stone throwing attacks as it passes through Arab neighborhoods.

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