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Wednesday, February 3, 1999 Published at 18:35 GMT

World: Middle East

Pilgrims to 'walk on water'

Israel expects up to four million pilgrims in 2000

Pilgrims travelling to Israel for the millennium celebrations are to be offered the experience of "walking on water".

The BBC's Paul Adams reports from the Sea of Galilee on plans for a "holy Disneyland"
Israel is to construct a submerged bridge in the Sea of Galilee allowing tourists to simulate the miracle which the Gospels say Jesus performed.

The Israeli National Parks Authority has authorised a private contractor to build the bridge in time for the millennium when some four million pilgrims are expected to make their way to the Holy Land.

The authority's head of planning, Zeev Margalit said that after canvassing church authorities about the idea and reviewing the plans, he concluded it would "not hurt the feelings of the Christian tourists and it would not be too kitschy. So we decided to go with it."

Hedging their bets

Some church authorities said they were reserving judgement until August, when the bridge is due to be in place at Capernaum, close to where the miracle is said to have happened.

"It is problematic," said Wadia Abu Nassar, director of millennium celebrations for the Roman Catholic Church in Israel. "It will lead to various interpretations."

He added the church had yet to decide whether to list it as an official site.

Rescue services at bay

The four-metre (13ft)-wide, 100-metre (328ft) long crescent-shaped floating bridge will be positioned just below the surface, and will be able to accommodate up to 50 people.

It will have not rails in order to enhance the "walking on water" effect, and lifeguards and boats will be in attendance in case a walker slips off.

The site of Jesus' reported walk on water has been a pilgrimage point since at least the third century, and is marked by an ancient church.

The bridge is one of a long list of projects approved by Israeli authorities for 2000.

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