Palestinians have been demanding resignation of Greek Orthodox patriarch Theophilos III for allegedly selling church land to Israelis in sweetheart deals.

Palestinian security forces push away demonstrators from the convoy of Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, during a protest against his visit, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem January 6, 2018.
Palestinian security forces push away demonstrators from the convoy of Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, during a protest against his visit, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem January 6, 2018. (Reuters)

Dozens of Palestinians in Bethlehem are protesting the arrival of the Greek Orthodox patriarch of the Holy Land to celebrate Orthodox Christmas.

The protesters scuffled with Palestinian police and church supporters Saturday as Theophilos III made his way toward the Church of the Nativity, revered as Jesus' birthplace.

Palestinians have been demanding his resignation for allegedly selling church land to Israelis in sweetheart deals.

Sale of land

Protesters and others pushed down temporary metal fencing about a kilometer from the church where Christmas services are set to be held. 

The mayor of the Christian town of Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, earlier said he wanted Theophilos removed from his post over the controversial land sales.

"Our move today is a protest against the patriarch over the sale of land of the Orthodox," mayor Nicola Khamis said.

The church elected Theophilos in 2005 after dismissing his predecessor Irineos over an alleged multi-million-dollar sale of church land to Jewish buyers.

But Khamis says the practice continues.

Most Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7, while those in the West observe it on December 25 because of differences between the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

The church is one of the largest real estate owners in the Holy Land. It is dominated by Greek clergy while the flock is overwhelmingly Palestinian.

Source: AP