Mine-clearing begins around site where Jesus was baptised

  • Video report by Senior International Correspondent John Irvine

The third holiest site in Christianity is where it’s thought Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River.

Last year more than half a million people visited the West Bank spot, many to immerse themselves in the water.

If they took in the scenery, they will have noticed the eight churches nearby.

But they couldn’t have visited them because for half a century they’ve been out of bounds, surrounded by minefields.

After the Six-Day War of 1967 the Israeli army laid the mines and booby-trapped the churches to prevent enemy gunmen operating out of neighbouring Jordan from using the buildings as cover.

Earlier this month the Halo Trust – renowned for mine clearance around the world – began work to clear this site.

Delicate diplomacy was required to bring the Israeli and Palestinian authorities together, not to mention the various denominations.

The Halo Trust are renowned for mine clearance around the world. Credit: ITV News

Now, Christians, Jews and Muslims are working on the site together with the shared purpose of making it a safe place where pilgrims can come and worship in the churches once more.

In the land around the churches you can make out lines of anti-tank mines as well as the tailfins of mortar shells poking out of the sand. They have 250 acres to clear, but are hoping to complete the work by next Easter.

In 1970 a shell destroyed the top corner of one of the churches revealing its beautiful interior.

Pictures taken by a drone show lustrous decorations, mosaics and icons. Soon restorers will be able to get inside to begin their work.

A shell destroyed the top corner of this church in 1970, revealing its beautiful interior. Credit: ITV News

In recent years the world as looked on in horror as fanatics have destroyed religious sites and artefacts in places like Iraq and Syria.

That’s one of the reasons why this project, and the co-operation behind it, is so heartening.