Just months before the official opening of one of Christianity’s holiest sites to visitors, the area where John the Baptist is said to have baptized Jesus remains surrounded by thousands of land mines.

Israel says the sites visited by pilgrims and tourists in an area known as Qasr el-Yahud will be safe, but advocacy groups warn that crowds could be in danger.

On Tuesday, some 15,000 Christian pilgrims marched between two fenced-in mine fields to reach the Epiphany ceremony led by the Greek Orthodox patriarch on the Jordan River, 5 miles (8 kilometers) east of the oasis town of Jericho at the edge of the West Bank.

Worshippers from around the world dipped themselves in the muddy waters, facing fellow believers on the other side of the small river. Orthodox clergymen dressed in dark frocks and robes chanted prayers as Patriarch Theofilos III blessed the waters, hurled branches and released white doves into the air.

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