An employee of the HALO Trust, a UK-based non-profit demining organization, uses a sweeper on-site at Qasr al-Yahud in the occupied West Bank near the Jordan river and the border with Jordan. AFP / MENAHEM KAHANA
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Pilgrims seeking serenity during a visit to Jesus' traditional baptism site may be rattled to discover they are surrounded by thousands of land mines left over from dormant Mideast conflicts. But a project now underway plans to rid the occupied West Bank site of the explosive devices, clearing away the relics of war that have blemished the sacred place for nearly five decades.The effort at the baptism site carries particular weight because of its importance to the world's Christians and the delicate international diplomacy that was required to take the project off the ground. The project's organizers had to navigate a virtual minefield of often quarreling church denominations, as well as Israeli and Palestinian officials.Christians believe John the Baptist baptized Jesus at the site, a lush stretch of the Jordan River flanked by desert – Christianity's third holiest site after the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, built on the spot where Christian belief says Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, constructed on the site where tradition holds Jesus was born.Shortly after that, Israel began planting land mines both on church land and in the surrounding area to fend off enemies.Eight churches are scattered across the nearly 250-acre expanse of land that borders the baptism site.
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