Clerics clash in Church of the Nativity

BETHLEHEM, West Bank Wed Dec 28, 2011 11:38am EST

1 of 5. Palestinian police officers try to keep the order during scuffles between members of the Armenian and Greek Orthodox clergy in the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 28, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Ammar Awad

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BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) - A Christmas cleaning of the Church of the Nativity turned into scuffles on Wednesday between rival Christian clerics zealously guarding denominational turf at the holy site.

Brooms and fists flew inside the church marking the birthplace of Jesus as some 100 priests and monks of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic churches brawled.

Palestinian police, bending their heads to squeeze through the church's low "door of humility," rushed in with batons flailing to restore order.

"It was a trivial problem that ... occurs every year," said police Lieutenant-Colonel Khaled al-Tamimi. "Everything is all right and things have returned to normal," he said. "No one was arrested because all those involved were men of God."

Administration of the 6th century Bethlehem church, the oldest in the Holy Land, is shared by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian clerics.

Any perceived encroachment of jurisdictional boundaries within the church can set off a row, especially during the annual cleaning for Orthodox Christmas celebrations, which will be held next week.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)

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