Police forcibly removed a group of Coptic priests from the entrance to Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre after they attempted to block antiquities workers from carrying out safety repairs in the Christian holy site.
One man was arrested after scuffling with officers and refusing to follow police instructions, police said in a statement.
According to Israeli authorities, dozens of priests had been using their bodies to prevent workers from the Israel Antiques Authority from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City to carry out the work.
“Since they didn’t listen to the request and instructions from police, an order was given to clear them away during the course of which police required to arrest one of them after he refused to be removed, blatantly violated public order and even tried to attack the police.”
التعدي بالضرب على الرهبان اثناء الوقفة السلمية من قبل قوات الشرطة الإسرائيلية وادخال المعدات للترميم بالقوة واعتقال احد الرهبان
Officials were not immediately able to say what safety works were planned for the site.
The church is built where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. Custody of it is shared by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic denominations under a sensitive status quo agreement. In the past, attempts to move even mundane objects in the shrine have led to scuffles among rival clergy.
Tensions between Israel and church officials have ramped up in recent months over a plan to tax church properties in Jerusalem.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat condemned the police behavior and said it showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had “lied” when he recently said Israel protects Christian interests.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the coward [sic] and brutal aggression committed by the Israeli occupying forces against the Coptic priests and members of the community early this morning,” he wrote in a statement. “This blatant violation at the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in occupied East Jerusalem comes only a week after PM Netanyahu lied claiming that Israel protects Christians.”
“This is a continuation of Israeli interference in the Status-Quo of the Holy Sites as well as an aggression against the peoples of Egypt and Palestine,” he added.
Dr. Saeb Erekat on the attack against the Coptic priests early this morning in #Jerusalem: This is a continuation of Israeli interference in the Status-Quo of the Holy Sites as well as an aggression against the peoples of #Egypt and #Palestine. https://t.co/ogwLgyj4RT pic.twitter.com/VVuCeexsRA
— Palestine PLO-NAD (@nadplo) October 24, 2018
Sue Surkes contributed to this report.