Free Access to the Site of Christ's Baptism Opened
The Israeli authorities have opened free access to for tourists and pilgrims to the place on the Jordan River at Kasr Al-Yahud, a site sacred to Christians all over the world, where, according to the Gospels, our Lord Jesus Christ was baptized.
Previously, special permission and agreements were required from the military in order to visit the site of Christ's baptism. This will no longer be necessary.
"Beginning today, a tourist center will be open for free visitation twenty-four hours a day. This is the result of over ten years of agreements and continual coordination. We have calculated that this will significantly increase the flow of tourists to Israel," said Amnon Lieberman, an advisor to the Israeli ministry of Tourism, to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
As Amnon Lieberman communicated, responsible agencies analyze water sample several times per year in the area of the tourist center. Last year, unsatisfactory analysis results from the river were the cause of a scandal between the Israeli Ministry of Tourism and independent ecologists, who insisted that the results did not come up to sanitary standards, and demanded that the site downstream of the Jordan be closed for baptism of the faithful.
"At the present time, all samples meet the standards. Immersion in the Jordan River is safe for health," said an agency representative. The Israeli Minister of inter-regional cooperation, Silvan Shalom, who was present at the opening ceremony of the tourist center, noted that the center's opening will have a positive effect on the region's economy, and will be the beginning of new projects in the Jordan River valley.
"Right now we are negotiating with Jordan and the Palestinian autonomy about developing a joint package of tourist services," said Silvan Shalom. In the near future, the Israeli authorities plan to build a dam together with Jordan, which would help raise the water level in the river significantly.
"Opening the tourist center on the Jordan River is an important event for our country. The government of Israel is trying to provide freedom of religion for believers of all confessions," said Amir Koren, an official representative of the Administration of coordinated action of the government on (Palestinian) territories.
The site in Kasr Al-Yahud, located near the Palestinian city of Jericho, attracts around 100,000 tourists and pilgrims per year, despite the fact that this portion of the Jordan River bank was designated a "military zone" after the war of 1967, and access to it was closed most of the year. Christians, especially members of the Orthodox confession, believe that the Jesus Christ received baptism from St. John the Baptist in lower part of the Jordan River, not far from where it empties into the Dead Sea, and it was there that the Holy Spirit descended upon Him.