Jerusalem: After years of delays and a billion-euro price tag, Jerusalem`s light rail system, which has stirred controversy across the Holy City, is gearing up for its long-awaited launch in the first half of next year.
Construction work has backed up traffic in already car-choked Jerusalem for years, leaving locals and shopkeepers frustrated and fed-up.
"The population has suffered since the work began in 2006, but we`ve achieved our goal," said Shmuel Elgrably, spokesman for the Jerusalem Transport Management Team, a group of experts advising the transport ministry and the city`s mayor.
The project was supposed to be finished in 2008, but the completion date has repeatedly been pushed back for a variety of reasons, ranging from construction errors to the unexpected discovery of historical artefacts.
It has also come under political attack because the completed network will run through mostly Arab east Jerusalem, which was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war.
A pro-Palestinian group is suing Alstom and Veolia, the two French companies involved in the project, arguing that they are violating international law by allowing the network to run through occupied east Jerusalem.
"This has earned us boycott threats and lost us important contracts," a Veolia official said on condition of anonymity.
The Palestinians oppose any extension of Israeli control over the eastern part of the city, which they see as the capital of their promised state.
Israel considers the whole of Jerusalem to be its "eternal and indivisible" capital.
On the ground, residents and shopkeepers along the tram`s route complain of having suffered years of loud, dirty construction work.
"We had to live with the dust, we were assaulted by jackhammering, and as a result our customers abandoned us," grumbled one merchant in the city centre.
While acknowledging the difficulties that the building work has caused, Elgrably said there was no alternative.