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Report Says Jordan River Baptism Site is Polluted

The Israeli government and environmentalists are sparring over one of the most important biblical sites in the Holy Land.

An environmental group says the traditional site where Jesus was baptized on the Jordan River is not safe for pilgrims because of untreated sewage pumped in from Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.

"The state of the river at the moment is really dire. It is very polluted," said Mira Edelstein, an Israeli representative of Friends of the Earth-Middle East.

The Israeli government denies the finding. It says it conducted tests at the site and the water is perfectly safe for baptismal ceremonies.

But the site of Jesus' baptism is just the tip of the iceberg. Edelstein says the Jordan River is drying up because its waters have been diverted for domestic use and agriculture.

"We have recently conducted a study that we undertook in a regional fashion, with Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian experts, and found that 98 percent of the river's waters have been diverted, only two percent of the river is left," she said.

The situation poses a dilemma for Israel which profits enormously from Christian tourism. About 100,000 pilgrims visit the site of Jesus' baptism each year.

Environmentalists say the only thing that can save the Jordan River is allowing more water to flow into it. But with a growing population, an arid Middle Eastern climate, and a chronic water shortage, that is easier said than done.