For the first time in 50 years, churches near Jesus baptismal site to be reopened.
Both sides of the road leading to Jesus’ baptismal site, called Qasr al-Yehud in Arabic, have been designated closed military zones since the 1967 Six-Day War. The reason for the designation is an estimated 3,000 land mines, which have prevented access to seven churches in the area.
That’s expected to change by 2018.
The world's largest humanitarian land mine removal organization is addressing the problem according to CNN and other international news agencies. The HALO Trust says it’s received permission from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the seven Christian denominations with churches on the way to the site to begin the process.
"If we didn't do it, these mines would be here forever," says HALO Trust CEO James Cowan. "We can make that difference. We can make that go away."
Christian pilgrims are expected to be able to visit the churches by 2018.
"The HALO Trust has been de-mining in the West Bank [biblical Judea and Samaria] for two years, during which time we have built bridges across religious, cultural and political divides," Cowan said in a statement Monday. "It is my belief that clearing this iconic site of land mines will benefit all humanity for centuries to come."
HALO said since clearing the mines at the site is for religious and cultural reasons, it is relying on private donations to pay for the project, according to media reports. The estimated cost is approximately $4 million.