Israel not paying to de-mine Christian holy site

2017-02-05 11:29

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Jericho - Nearly half a million tourists annually walk past two fenced-in minefields to visit Qasr al-Yahud, meaning Castle of the Jews in Arabic - the site where Jesus was believed to have been baptised in the River Jordan.

A $4m project launched last year by the de-mining charity Halo Trust is hoping to make the site safer after the group struck an agreement with Israeli authorities, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and local churches that own plots in Qasr al-Yahud. The deal allows Halo Trust to work on de-mining the site, located several kilometres from Jericho. 

But Israel, whose army peppered the site with mines after the 1967 war, is not paying for these de-mining efforts, observers note.

"None of the government is paying at the moment," Ronen Shimoni, the head of Halo Trust's operations in the occupied West Bank, told Al Jazeera.

"We hope that they will contribute to the Halo Trust, which will allow us to carry on the project."

Once the mines are cleared and access to the churches is restored, Shimoni said, tourist and pilgrim numbers will surely increase, benefitting the local economy. Although Halo Trust had hoped to begin late last year, less than $80 000 has been raised so far - well short of the $500 000 needed to get the project off the ground.

Entrance road

"This site is closed behind a fence and doesn't carry a daily threat to the people," he said. "But the clearance of the site will allow and provide stability in the area for the people of Jericho...for Jerusalem."

In an emailed response to an Al Jazeera inquiry on the matter, Israel's defence ministry maintained that it "financially supports every humanitarian mine clearance project across Israel, including the project to release the Baptism Site". The ministry did not provide further details.

The Israeli army and the tourism ministry said that they have spent around $3m to renovate the area in the past several years by building parking lots and shaded areas, upgrading the main entrance road and providing electricity.

The PA, however, says that Israel has not paid for any de-mining in the occupied West Bank.

In addition to Qasr al-Yahud, there are 16 minefields in the West Bank, most of which were laid by the Jordanian military in the 1960s to protect strategic positions and prevent Israeli forces from advancing.

Halo Trust has worked with the PA to clear four minefields near Qalqilya, Bethlehem and Hebron, according to Brigadier Juma Abdel Jabbar, who heads the Palestinian Mine Action Centre. The projects were funded by the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and New Zealand, he said.


Read more on:    palestine  |  israel  |  religion

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