Egypt, churches condemn police tussle with Jerusalem monks
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Egypt, churches condemn police tussle with Jerusalem monks

Cairo’s embassy in Tel Aviv intervenes after Coptic monk arrested while protesting contested restoration work at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Israel Police officers restrain a Coptic cleric during a protest against safety maintenance work at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, October 24, 2018. (Patriarchate of the Orthodox Copts in Jerusalem/Facebook)
Israel Police officers restrain a Coptic cleric during a protest against safety maintenance work at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, October 24, 2018. (Patriarchate of the Orthodox Copts in Jerusalem/Facebook)

A scuffle between Israeli police and Coptic priests at a major Christian holy site in Jerusalem on Wednesday drew condemnation from the Egyptian government and churches in the Holy Land.

Officers broke up a sit-in by Coptic monks outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre who were protesting restoration work in a nearby monastery claimed by their sect.

“The police attacked us and forced us to leave the area,” Coptic Orthodox Church spokesman Father Markos Al Orshalimy said following the protest in front of the site, where Jesus is believed to have been crucified and buried.

Orshalimy said several monks had been lightly injured, while one was arrested and later released after the Egyptian embassy intervened.

In a statement, Egypt’s foreign ministry expressed a “total rejection” of the use of force by Israeli police and said it was “closely monitoring the situation.”

The statement said the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv was in contact with Israeli authorities regarding the incident, and confirmed the monk was released following its intervention.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, located in Jerusalem’s Old City, is shared by several Christian denominations. A long-standing status quo governs the sects’ ownership and management of the holy site. Each group is fiercely protective of its territory, and even perceived alterations to the status quo have resulted in arguments or violence.

The Copts were protesting the start of restoration work by the Israel Antiquities Authority at the St. Michael the Archangel Chapel, which both the Ethiopian and Egyptian Orthodox churches claim.

The antiquities authority was to perform repairs after a stone fell out of place in the chapel in September 2017.

On Wednesday, police said priests blocked the entrance and barred the workers’ entry, and officers were forced to remove the monks who were blocking workers from accessing the building site.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed that one monk was arrested in the scuffle, but said that officers had first tried to talk them into leaving the area.

Images on social media showed police officers holding a monk down on the ground then carrying him away in handcuffs. Other police officers could be seen unceremoniously ousting monks through a door on the side of the square.

التعدي بالضرب على الرهبان اثناء الوقفة السلمية من قبل قوات الشرطة الإسرائيلية وادخال المعدات للترميم بالقوة واعتقال احد الرهبان

Posted by ‎بطريركية الاقباط الارثوذوكس بالقدس‎ on Tuesday, 23 October 2018

An umbrella group of churches in the Holy Land issued a statement denouncing the use of force by police against the priests. It said the Orthodox Coptic Patriarchate filed a complaint with the Israeli Justice Ministry, and that the Copts plan to hold a protest against the police action in the coming days.

“While we condemn the actions of the police officers toward Coptic monks, we demand that Israeli authorities … hold accountable the mentioned police officers, and respect the basic rights of the people for freedom of expression and demonstration,” Wadie Abunassar, adviser to church leaders in the Holy Land, said in a statement.

Church spokesman Orshalimy also said the church would continue to protest the incident “through local and international channels.”

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