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Tuesday, 30 July, 2002, 19:31 GMT 20:31 UK
Holy war over Jerusalem church
A monk shows his head injury
Iron bars and chairs were thrown during the row

One of Christianity's holiest sites has been the scene of an unseemly punch-up between rival monks.

Fists flew in a row over the position of a chair on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the heart of Jerusalem.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The church is controlled by six different orders
For Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre marks the site of Christ's burial and resurrection.

As such, it is one of Christianity's holiest places.

But for centuries it has also been the scene of furious rivalry between different Christian churches.

The latest fracas involved monks from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Coptic Church of Egypt, two groups which for years have been vying for control of the church's roof.

Things came to a head on Sunday when the Ethiopians objected to an Egyptian monk's decision to move his chair into the shade.

The Ethiopians said the move violated an agreement which defines the ownership of every chapel, lamp and flagstone in the church.

Eleven monks - seven of them Ethiopian, four Egyptian - were hurt in the violence which followed as the rivals hurled stones, iron bars and chairs at each other.

Monk left unconscious

The Ethiopians say one of their brothers is still unconscious in hospital.

The Israeli police were called to restore order.

Rivalry between the six different churches which grudgingly share the Holy Sepulchre dates back to the aftermath of the crusades and to the great schism between Eastern and Western Christianity in the 11th Century.

It is also, in its own way, a poignant reminder of the declining strength of the Christian community in Jerusalem.

While they fight among themselves at what for them is the holiest place in the world, their numbers have slumped - by some estimates to fewer than 10,000.


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