Jordan criticises Israeli plans to build railway tunnel to the Western Wall

Plan announced Monday will increase strain on Israel's relationship with Amman


Jordan has condemned a decision by the Israeli Knesset to go ahead with a plan to build a new station underneath Jerusalem’s Old City.

In comments carried by the BBC, Daifallah al-Fayez, Jordan’s foreign ministry spokesman, said that the plans constituted “a flagrant violation of international law” and urged the international community “to assume its responsibilities and resist the illegitimate and illegal Israeli steps.”

Tuesday’s sharp rebuke follows an announcement by the Israeli Transport Ministry on Monday that the Knesset had approved the extension of much marred Tel-Aviv – Jerusalem high speed rail to the holy city’s Western Wall, which sits in occupied East Jerusalem.

The new route will extend the high-speed line from its current end-point at Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station through 3km tunnel under the Old City and two new stations.

The initial plan was unveiled by former Transport Minister Israel Katz in 2017, who announced that the new station would be named after Trump to thank Washington’s for its recognition of an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s.

Approval by the Knesset’s National Planning and Building Council comes as a revision of a previous decision from June 2019, that would have seen the railway outside the gates of the Old City.

Haaretz reported that the decision came after intense pressure from current far-right Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

The decision will likely come under severe criticism from Palestinian groups, archaeologists and religious authorities.

In 2017, Transport Ministry spokesman Avner Ovadia said that the extension would cost more than $700m, adding to the already $1.8bn that has been spend on the railway connecting Israel’s most important cities.

Knesset planning officials have doubted that the project will ever be built.

Smotrich celebrated the decision as “historic” and said it was “very good news for Israeli residents and the millions of tourists who come to Jerusalem.”

“We are also succeeding in promoting the Zionist and Jewish agenda,” he continued.

The move is likely to increase strain on Israeli-Jordanian relations, which Jordan’s King Abdullah described in November as “at an all-time low”.   

Jordan is recognised by both Israel and the Palestinians as the guardian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and operates in the city through the Islamic religious trust Waqf.

Jordan has previously criticised what it regards as attempts to encroach attempts onto the Temple Mount - Islam's third and Judaism's most holy site - by Israeli authorities, which sits behind the Western Wall. 

The new Tel Aviv – Jerusalem railway, which replaces a line first built in the Ottoman era, which began operation at full capacity eleven years behind schedule in 2019, cuts travel times between the cities down from 78 minutes to 28 minutes.

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