James Cowan, CEO of HALO, released a statement praising the efforts, and committing the organization to completing the project.
“This Christmas, the HALO Trust has reached a pivotal point in our work to clear the Baptism Site of landmines and other remnants of war. Thanks to the dedication of our demining team and the generosity of the Israeli government and Christians, Jews and Muslims worldwide, we have completed clearance of the Ethiopian, Greek and Franciscan churches,” Cowan said.
“In the coming weeks we will also complete the Russian churchyard. But we cannot stall in our mission to clear every church. HALO still needs at least $300,000 if we are to restore all the churches to their rightful purpose of peaceful worship and reflection.”
So far HALO has raised over $500,000 from the public donations to help fund the clearance, and the government of Israel has contributed an additional $535,000.
Marcel Aviv, Director of the Israeli National Mine Action Authority called the announcement “very exciting and long-awaited.”
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“The de-mining of the Baptism Site - a place so significant to so many - is such a unique and wonderful opportunity. The cleaning and releasing of this land, and the ability to return them to their religious guardians, is a project we take great pride in," he said.
During the clearance efforts, a team of Georgian HALO deminers were the first people to enter the Ethiopian and Franciscan churches in over 50 years. According to HALO, religious items, crockery and cutlery, and even a supply of beer were among items recovered and handed back to Church authorities in Jerusalem.
Five churches that belong to the Coptic, Greek, Russian, Romanian and Syrian orthodox churches are still believed to be booby-trapped, as is a plot of land belonging to the Armenian Orthodox Church.