JERUSALEM: 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.
Transport Minister Yisrael Katz 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, occupied by Israel in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.
It is in an area at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the Western Wall located just below the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
The hilltop compound is sacred to both Muslims and Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount. It is the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam, after Makkah and Medina.
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 metres (262 feet) deep to connect the central station at the entrance to Jerusalem to the Western Wall station.
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.