March 29 (UPI) — Experts have begun clearing thousands of land mines at a site in the West Bank where Christians believe Jesus was baptized.
For 50 years, eight churches at the holy site have stood empty and deserted when the mines were laid around them during the Six Day War in 1967 — a conflict between Israel and the Arab nations of Jordan, Syria and Egypt.
In 2016, the humanitarian organization HALO launched a project to clear the mine fields surrounding the churches. With the organization’s goal of $1.15 million almost met, work began this month to clear away the land mines left from conflicts of the past.
The baptismal site, Qasr al-Yahud, is where Christians believe John the Baptist baptized Jesus and is considered one of the holiest places in the Christian world.
Clearing the mine field at Qasr al-Yahud will allow the churches to be restored and visited by some of the 400,000 visitors who come to the area each year.
The process of clearing the estimated 2,600 mines could take about two years, HALO said.
The eight churches being restored belong to the Roman Catholic church and the Coptic, Ethiopian, Greek, Romanian, Syrian and Russian orthodoxies. Also being de-mined is a plot of land belonging to the Armenian orthodox church.
“The chance to clear this very historic site means that all faiths … and all Christian denominations have been working together,” HALO Trust CEO James Cowen said. “And I think in an age in which elsewhere in the world religious and historical sites have been damaged and torn down, for humanity to be working together to restore a site like this has huge symbolic implications.”
Humanity for All: “These sites are important to all of us” from The HALO Trust on Vimeo.