Middle East

Priests brawl in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity

Scuffles have broken out between rival groups of Greek Orthodox and Armenian clerics in a turf war at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

Bemused tourists looked on as about 100 priests fought with brooms while cleaning the church in preparation for Orthodox Christmas, on 7 January.

Palestinian police armed with batons and shields broke up the clashes.

Groups of priests have clashed before in the church, built on the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born.

"It was a trivial problem that... occurs every year," Bethlehem police Lt-Col Khaled al-Tamimi told Reuters.

"No one was arrested because all those involved were men of God," he said.

Nobody was seriously injured in the scuffles, according to the police.

Previous clashes between the denominations which share the administration of the church have been sparked by perceived encroachments on one group's territory by another.

The 1,700-year-old church, one of the holiest sites in Christianity, is in a bad state of repair, largely because the priests cannot agree on who should pay for its upkeep.

Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where many Christians believe Jesus's body was taken after crucifixion, has also seen similar incidents.

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