Netanyahu Tests Israeli Fast Train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tested Israel's new high-speed train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv on Thursday, but much work remains before it is fully operational.
Netanyahu joined Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz on the ride from a newly built train station in Jerusalem's city centre to Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.
That portion of the route is due to open on Tuesday, but trains will not yet be able to reach Tel Aviv itself or other locations.
Travelling at speeds up to 160 kilometres (100 miles) per hour, the ride from central Jerusalem to the airport will take 21 minutes -- half the time it takes to drive there in normal traffic, though congestion often makes the trip much longer.
There is also an older train that runs from Jerusalem to the airport, but that journey takes some two hours and requires a change.
Netanyahu spoke briefly before the ride, saying it was a "historic day" and the beginning of a "new era".
The new train was due to open in March, but work to prepare the line has been slower than expected and its launch repeatedly delayed.
The project dates back many years, having first been planned in the 1990s, with an original opening date of 2008.
The new line includes 40 kilometres of tunnels and eight bridges, with a small part of it controversially passing through the occupied West Bank.
Companies involved in the project include Canadian firm Bombardier, Spain's Semi and France's Alstom.
Israel also wants to extend the line to include a Western Wall station, which would be sure to spark criticism.
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, 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 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.
Katz said Thursday the new line was cause for "celebration" for Jerusalem.
"Now, more than ever, when there are people trying to challenge and question the Jewish people's connection to Jerusalem and ownership of it, we're connecting Jerusalem," he said.