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Israel police break up Coptic sit-in

© AFP | A Coptic monk walks past a cross on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulture in Jerusalem's Old City on October 20, 2018

JERUSALEM (AFP) - 

Israeli police broke up a sit-in Wednesday by Coptic monks in the forecourt of Jerusalem's Holy Sepulchre church in protest at 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Early 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.

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

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church did not immediately respond to AFP requests for comment.

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

It lies just a few hundred metres (yards) from flashpoint Muslim and Jewish holy sites, in the heart of Jerusalem's Old City, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

© 2018 AFP