Palestinian government forced to save birthplace of Christ

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The monks who tend the grotto under the Byzantine basilica of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem should enjoy lives of quiet, meditative service to the lofty ideals of their faith.

When they wash the grotto's marbled altar and guard its silver lamps, they are watching over the cradle of the Christian world: the exact spot where Jesus Christ is believed to have been born.

Yet despite this sacred trust, a ten-year row between the different sects that manage the church has forced the Palestinian government's Muslim leaders to intervene to prevent the basilica's ancient lead roof from collapsing on its mosaic floors.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian national authority, has taken the unprecedented step of issuing a decree that the church must be repaired.

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