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Monks brawl at Jerusalem shrine

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Scenes of chaos as the church brawl breaks out

Israeli police have had to restore order at one of Christianity's holiest sites after a mass brawl broke out between monks in Jerusalem's Old City.

Fighting erupted between Greek Orthodox and Armenian monks at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of Christ's crucifixion.

Two monks from each side were detained as dozens of worshippers traded kicks and punches at the shrine, said police.

Trouble flared as Armenians prepared to mark the annual Feast of the Cross.

Tapestries toppled

Shocked pilgrims looked on as decorations and tapestries were toppled during Sunday's clash.

Dressed in the vestments of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian denominations, rival monks threw punches and anything they could lay their hands on.

The Greeks blamed the Armenians for not recognising their rights inside the holy site, while the Armenians said the Greeks had violated one of their traditional ceremonies.

Israeli policemen scuffle with an Armenian altar boy during a fight at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on 9 November2008
Clashes between Christian sects in the ancient church are not uncommon

An Armenian clergyman said the Greek clergy had tried to place one of their monks inside the Edicule, an ancient structure which is said to encase the tomb of Jesus.

"What is happening here is a violation of status quo. The Greeks have tried so many times to put their monk inside the tomb but they don't have the right to when the Armenians are celebrating the feast," he said.

The Armenians had been preparing to commemorate the 4th Century discovery of the cross believed to have been used to crucify Jesus.

A Greek clergyman said: "We protested peacefully, we stood here in the middle and we claimed that we shall not leave the procession finished unless they leave our guardian be inside. This didn't happen and in that moment the police interfered."

Six Christian churches share control of the ancient church and the BBC's Wyre Davies in Jerusalem says confrontations between them are not uncommon, but rarely descend into violence.



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