A SCOTTISH mine clearance charity is to remove buried bombs from the site where Jesus was baptised in a “symbolic” act aimed at overcoming violence and intolerance.

James Cowan, chief executive of the Halo Trust, has secured a deal to clear a 136-acre minefield that has blocked access to seven churches since the Six-Day War in 1967.

Most of the munitions were buried by Israeli troops after the country seized the West Bank, cutting off a site of major religious significance.

However, the area will now be reopened for thousands of pilgrims from around the world in an initiative which Cowan hopes will bring communities together in an area of the world riven by division.

He said: “We are not a religious organisation. Our purpose in this is really for the broader symbolism of the clearance.

“Because the world is such a violent place, a simple act of clearance by the River Jordan, I think, will resonate in an extraordinary way around the world and refocus attention on the humanitarian purpose behind demining.”

Last year Halo, based in Thornhill, Dumfries and Galloway, declared Mozambique mine-free after destroying 171,000 devices during more than 20 years in the country.

It began an emergency operation to clear unexploded ordnance from intense fighting between Karabakhi and Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno Karabakh last month and aims to see Sri Lanka mine-free by 2020.

The organisation has been working in the West Bank for two years and Cowan estimates that the Qaser al-Yahud project – which covers churches belonging to the Roman Catholic Church and the Coptic, Ethiopian, Greek, Romanian, Syrian and Russian orthodoxies – will take two years and $4 million to complete.

He said: “We have done some very careful work in all three faiths and we have achieved an agreement by which Israelis, Palestinians and Christians have decided it is a good thing to clear the site of the mines and booby traps.

“It is going to have not only implications for the area; it has wider implications because it means that all three faiths have been working together, all seven Christian denominations have been working together.

“In an age in which elsewhere in the world religions and historical sites are being damaged and pulled down, for humanity to be working together to restore a site like this has huge symbolic implications.”

Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of The Holy Land, said: “Of course the baptism site is very important for the believers, the Christian believers, but from the cultural point of view it is very important also for all the non-believers, for all the people in humanity across the world, because it remembers important aspects of the Christian life that have had very strong influence on European culture – the renaissance, art, music.”