Once HALO Trust, a humanitarian organization, has cleared the landmines, the land & churches along the western bank of the Jordan River can be visited once more in safety.
By Lilach Shoval
Qasr al-Yahud, a site just north of the Dead Sea near Jericho, where many Christians believe Jesus was baptized, will be cleared of landmines and other ordnance, a half-century after Israel took control of the area during the 1967 Six-Day War.
The Defense Ministry will carry out the clearing operation together with the HALO Trust, which describes itself as “the world’s largest humanitarian mine clearance organization.” The area includes ancient churches and monasteries that have been deemed unsafe because they are surrounded by landmines, although a baptism site that caters to pilgrims is accessible. The project will get underway toward the end of year, with about 247 acres set to be cleared.
“The HALO Trust has secured approval from the Israelis, Palestinians and religious denominations to remove the landmines so that people can explore the area in safety,” the HALO Trust said in a statement on Monday. “Clearing minefields at the baptism site not only removes a deadly legacy of conflict; it helps build bridges between fractured communities. Once we have cleared the land, the churches can be refurbished and the land and churches along the western bank of the Jordan River can be visited once more in safety. Clearance of the minefield at Qasr al-Yahud will allow the churches, which belong to the Roman Catholic church and the Coptic, Ethiopian, Greek, Romanian, Syrian and Russian orthodoxies, to be restored to their proper purpose and enjoyed by thousands of pilgrims and visitors. A plot of land belonging to the Armenian orthodox church will also be de-mined. All have given us their blessing to clear the baptism site.”
According to Jewish tradition, the site lies in the general area where Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan. It is also considered holy by Muslims.
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