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Rival Clergy Clash at Jerusalem's Holy Sepulcher Church

Rival clergy have clashed at a historic church in Jerusalem's Old City. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks shoved, scratched and traded blows at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher - a shrine revered as the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

The clash erupted during a procession of Armenian clergymen marking the 4th century discovery of the cross on which Jesus is believed to have been crucified.

Fearing that their own claims to the ancient sepulcher would be undermined, the Greek monks demanded that one of their clergy be present in the ancient tomb during the march. The Armenian monks refused, and when they tried to march, Greek Orthodox monks blocked their way, sparking the brawl.

Each side blames the other for the violence. This Greek Orthodox priest says his side did what was necessary to protect its rights.

"We protested peacefully," he said. "We tried our best not to use violence."

Armenian clergyman Fakrad Barjekian sees things differently.

"The Greeks attacked the Armenians and they responded," he told Israel Television.

Israeli police rushed into the church and eventually restored order.

The clash underscores centuries of hostility between six feuding denomination's at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. For instance, a ladder placed on a ledge over the entrance in the 19th century has remained there ever since because of a dispute over who has the authority to take it down. Because of disagreement among Christians, a Muslim family holds the key to the holiest place in Christianity.