While Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace and goodwill, rival groups of Greek and Armenian Orthodox priests have come to blows at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity over plans for the Orthodox Christmas on 7 January.

Both groups of clerics hold joint jurisdiction over the church, which is believed to be built on the spot of Christ's birth.

Confused tourists and pilgrims, who had travelled there to celebrate the Christmas season, looked on in bewilderment as about 100 priests fought with brooms during the annual clean-up of the church.

Palestinian police broke up the fight with batons and shields.

"It was a trivial problem that... occurs every year," Bethlehem police Lieutenant-Colonel Khaled al-Tamimi told Reuters.

"No one was arrested because all those involved were men of God," he said.

Nobody was seriously injured in the scuffles, according to police.

Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where many Christians believe Jesus's body was taken after crucifixion, has also seen similar incidents.