The Jerusalem light rail project has turned into a diplomatic hot potato for the French government. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly asked French President Jacques Chirac to intervene in the construction of the project because he said the route includes the "conquered territories" of Pisgat Ze'ev and French Hill, the French daily Le Monde reported. Abbas raised the issue during a visit to Paris last month because two major French construction companies - Alstom and Connex - are involved in the project. Abbas asked Chirac to check whether the construction was a violation of the Geneva Convention. According to Le Monde, Chirac said he would look into the matter, but according to the French Foreign Ministry, CGEA-Connex and Alstom are private companies and the French government is not involved in the project in any way. However, according to sources in Paris, the issue has deeply embarrassed government officials, Le Monde reported. "It is not so simple," said one of the sources. "We are aware of the symbolic dimension of this issue, but on the other hand we cannot interfere in the free enterprise and market laws." The tender for the €400 million contract for the construction of the light rail system was won by consortium City-Pass in 2002, consisting of domestic investors Polar Investments, Ashtrom Ltd. and Harel Insurance Investments, and Paris-based transport giants Alstom and CGEA-Connex. The 13.8-km. rail line will from Mount Herzl to Pisgat Ze'ev via Jaffa Road, Then French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin did not hide his satisfaction during his visit to Jerusalem in March. French Ambassador to Israel Gerard Araud was present at the official contract-signing ceremony in July at the Prime Minister's Office. "The fact that the French ambassador in Tel Aviv was present at the contract signature ceremony indeed deprives the French government of their allegation that they are not involved," said a French official. The Palestinian argument claimed that the project strengthened the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and was aimed at preventing the Palestinians from establishing the capital of their future state in the Arab part of Jerusalem. According to PA Foreign Minister Nasser al-Qidwa, one of the articles of the Geneva Convention prevents any state from transferring a part of its population onto a territory it occupies, and stipulates that all signatories of the Geneva Convention are bound to stop any company that would facilitate the transfer process. However, a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry stated this week that "the participation of French companies in the construction of the Jerusalem light rail is in the framework of the international free market," and added that this participation does not have "any consequence on the status of east Jerusalem." A Jerusalem Municipality spokesman concurred. "Like the French Foreign Ministry, we agree that the participation of the two French companies is in the framework of international market laws, with a purely commercial character, which should be separated from any political considerations."


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