Israeli police forcibly remove Coptic protesters in Jerusalem

Several monks injured as police end protest against the renovation of Deir as-Sultan monastery in Jerusalem.

    A Coptic Christian monk walks past a cross on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City [File: Thomas Coex/AFP]
    A Coptic Christian monk walks past a cross on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City [File: Thomas Coex/AFP]

    Israeli police broke up a sit-in by Coptic monks at a major Christian holy site in Jerusalem as they were protesting against restoration work at a nearby monastery claimed by their sect.

    Scuffles broke out on Wednesday between police and priests in the forecourt of the Church of the Holy Sepulchrewhere many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

    "The police attacked us and forced us to leave the area," Coptic Orthodox Church spokesman Father Markos Al Orshalimy told AFP news agency, following the protest in front of the holy site. 

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

    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 pushing monks out through a door on the side of the square.

    Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed the arrest, saying the monks had been blocking workers from accessing the building site and that officers had first tried to talk them into leaving the area.

    Egypt's Foreign Ministry expressed a "total rejection" of Israeli police violence and said it was "closely monitoring the situation".

    Since Tuesday, about 30 Orthodox Coptic monks have been holding a sit-in to block renovators from reaching Deir as-Sultan, a monastery on the roof of the church.

    The Coptic Church claims ownership of the building, which Israel granted to the Ethiopian Orthodox church in 1970.

    Al Orshalimy on Wednesday cited an Israeli court ruling from the following year, saying the site should be given back to the Coptic Church, which was never implemented.

    Earlier this month, the Israeli government informed the Coptic Orthodox Church that it would carry out restoration work in the building and that Orthodox monks would not be allowed to oversee the work.

    Al Orshalimy said the church would "continue to protest through local and international channels".

    The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is divided into multiple sections controlled by different Christian authorities and has long been the site of disputes between sects.

    SOURCE: News agencies