In Brief

Why Israeli railway plan is controversial

Extension of line to heart of Jerusalem's Old City condemned by Jordan and environmentalists

Jordan says Israel’s decision to press on with the construction of a railway line and station under Jerusalem's Old City is a “flagrant violation of international law”.

Israel’s transport ministry has announced that a new route had been approved for an extension of the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed railway.

This will include a tunnel leading to the Western Wall – a holy site for Jews – in the city's occupied east. The decision takes the route into the very heart of the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians

The compound behind the Western Wall is known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

As the BBC explains, Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, but the Palestinians say East Jerusalem - occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war - is the capital of a future state.

Jordan’s foreign ministry spokesman called on the international community to “assume its responsibilities to resist the illegitimate and illegal Israeli steps”. Jordan has special responsibility for overseeing the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem through an Islamic trust called the Waqf. 

The Israeli daily newspaper Israel Hayom said the new train station will be named after US President Donald Trump, in recognition of his decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

That move was in itself highly controversial. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has described Trump's decision as the “slap of the century”.

The station will be 50 metres underground and will be connected by escalators to the esplanade of the Western Wall.

“It is a very exciting time for Israel and for the generations to come,” said Israeli Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich. “We are realising Zionism,” he added.

The route will reportedly involve building two underground stations and digging a tunnel beneath central Jerusalem. Israeli environmentalists have criticised the decision.

Last year, Israeli authorities passed a plan to build a cable-car network that would transport visitors from West Jerusalem to the Western Wall. Critics said it would damage the historic landscape of the Old City - a Unesco World Heritage site.

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