Israel to clear mines from Jesus’s baptism site and churches in Jericho

Announcement made by Defense Ministry in cooperation with HALO Trust; De-mining to begin at the end of 2016

armenian-305x172

Israel’s Defense Ministry, along with the HALO Trust, announced Tuesday that it will clear landmines in Jericho allowing access to the area after decades. An agreement was facilitated between Israel, the HALO Trust and Palestinian factions in the past weeks, the de-mining process to begin towards the end of 2016.

The area, Qasr al-Yehud, Arabic for “The Jews’ Fortress”, is where Jesus was baptized and where the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land 40 years after fleeing slavery in Egypt. The area was mined and cut off during the Six-Day War in 1967 due to attacks carried out on Israel from Jordan. Until 1967, Jordan controlled the area from 1948.

Over 247 acres are to be cleared, allowing access to numerous churches and monasteries as well as access to Jesus’s baptismal site. The process will reportedly take under 20 months with talks to establish a park in the area.

The HALO Trust released the following statement on the de-mining process and announcement, “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. 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-Yehud 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.”

The baptism site of Jesus is visited by over 300,000 pilgrims annually and made possible only due to the Israel Tourism Ministry in cooperation with Israel’s Defense Ministry. Access to the churches and monasteries built in the area over 1,000 years ago has been cut off since 1967.

Chief Executive of the HALO Trust, Mr. James Cowan stated that “Our purpose is to help the Christian communities, the seven denominations here, help the Israelis, help the Palestinians to clear this site for all mankind. I believe it has an immediate value here, but has a purpose much more broadly across the world.”