November 22, 2010 - 1:00am

JERUSALEM, Nov. 21 (Xinhua) -- Israel on Sunday approved a plan to develop Jerusalem's Western Wall plaza which will cost 85 million shekels (about 23 million U.S. dollars), citing preservation of archaeological sites and the need to upgrade aging infrastructure as its main goals.

The plan, slated to stretch from 2011 to 2015, is a "direct continuation of a plan that was approved in 2004," the Israeli Prime Minister's Office said in a statement following the cabinet' s weekly meeting on Sunday.

The Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, attracts millions of tourists - local and foreign - every year. Financial investments in renovation projects have led to a dramatic upsurge in visitors - from two million in 2004 to eight million in 2009, the statement said.

"We are committed to developing and maintaining the Western Wall so that it may continue to be the focus of visits and a source of inspiration for millions," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

The plan will be administered by the Prime Minister's Office and financed by several government ministries, the statement said.

In mid-August, a local Jerusalem subcommittee approved a plan to build a dual-car elevator that will ferry disabled and elderly visitors between the Old City's Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall plaza. The project, estimated at 10 million dollars, currently awaits the final approval of the Jerusalem District Planning Committee.

The future of Jerusalem and its holy sites is a core issue debated by Israel and the Palestinians, with the latter claiming its eastern part as the capital of their future state.


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