The annual Christmas clean-up at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity turned into a mass brawl yesterday as rival clergy from the Greek Orthodox and Armenian denominations attacked each other with brooms.
Club-wielding Palestinian police stormed into the church, the traditional birthplace of Christ, to break up the fight, which involved about 100 priests and monks.
The 6th century holy site is jointly administered by the Latin, Orthodox and Armenian churches, with each fiercely guarding their turf against encroachment.
Bethlehem police Lieutenant-Colonel Khaled al-Tamimi said order was quickly restored and such scuffles between the rival clergy occurred every year. "No one was arrested because all those involved were men of God," he explained.
Every year the different denominations co-operate in the annual Christmas cleaning operation, which takes place between the Latin Christmas and early January, when the Orthodox sects celebrate Christmas.
The Palestinian Authority in Bethlehem and Israel adopted the delicate status quo in operation since the British mandate under which no changes, however minor, can be made without the approval of all three denominations.
The result has been that the church has fallen into a dangerous state of disrepair.
Last month, after years of arguments, the sects finally reached agreement to replace the church's leaking roof. The renovations will be the first major repairs in 150 years. (© Daily Telegraph, London)