Jesus' Baptism Site Ringed With Mines

Advocacy groups worried about expected onslaught of pilgrims
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 19, 2011 2:26 PM CST
Jesus' Baptism Site Ringed With Mines
An Ethiopian Orthodox Christian pilgrim immerses himself in water taken from the Jordan River after it was blessed during a baptism ceremony at Qasr el Yahud.   (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Christianity's third most holy site, the place where John is said to have baptized Jesus, is set to be opened to the public in the near future—but at the present moment, it's surrounded by thousands of land mines. Israel says the site, which is expected to attract millions of people, will be safe, but advocacy groups warn that may not be the case. "Since it was a border, the place is really littered by hundreds and hundreds of mines," said an archaeologist. But the Israeli military says the baptism site and adjacent churches are located in a "completely mine-free zone," and say that they regularly clear mines from the Jordan River Valley area.

But the director of an anti-mining advocacy group says that the flood-prone valley contains half a million mines: He worries some may shift outside fenced areas, or that overzealous worshipers might stray from marked paths. The AP notes that Jordan, which claims its side of the river is the actual baptism site, cleared all the minefields on that side, and saw a visit from Pope John Paul II in 2000. Since Israel gained control of the area some 50 years ago, pilgrims have had to coordinate their trips with the military—currently, about 60,000 people do so each year. No date for the opening has been set. (Want more religious news? Click to read about what's happening to a vial of John Paul II's blood.)

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