Last landmine cleared from biblical Jordan Valley site

Holy site to be restored after 53 years as landmines finally cleared

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After more than 50 years frozen in time, one of the world's holiest of places, where the baptism of Jesus Christ is believed to have taken place, has finally been cleared of all landmines.

For thousands of years it had attracted pilgrims and worshippers from across the globe but following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War it was left abandoned and littered in landmines.

A campaign launched by charity the Halo Trust in 2014 has seen thousands of mines cleared from the site which sits on the River Jordan in Qaser al-Yahud.

The last mine has finally been removed from the site allowing access to the eight derelict  churches located there for the first time in five decades.

The Halo Trust told The National restoration work can finally begin on the buildings to enable them to be reopened to pilgrims and visitors in the near future.

"It is really nice that after 53 years we have now managed to finish the last landmine," James Cowan, CEO of the HALO Trust told the BBC Today programme.

"We have blown up 500 of them in a daisy chain explosion."

The charity has worked with different faith groups to make the project possible.

Last month the charity detonated the recovered mines and now wants to focus on rehabilitation of the area.

It tweeted an image of the explosion, adding: "Baptism of Fire: What 562 anti-tank mines look like when made safe."

Following the Arab-Israeli War, which had seen the border between the West Bank and Jordan heavily mined, the churches were abandoned to decay as entry was too dangerous.

When entry was gained, Mr Cowan described it as stepping back in time as everything in the churches was exactly how it had been left when the people fled.

"It was like a time capsule," he said.

"The table was still laid for dinner. It was wonderful to return there and know we can now begin the process of restoring the churches."

The minefield covered around 250 acres and contained an estimated 2,600 landmines.

The Halo Trust had secured the approval of the Israelis, Palestinians and all the churches to clear the landmines in 2016.

The site consists of the Roman Catholic Church and seven Eastern churches - Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Greek, Romanian, Syrian and Russian.

The clearing initiative, which started in 2018, was financed through a global fundraising campaign, with donations from church leaders, philanthropists, congregations and the Israeli President’s office.