JERUSALEM ?? Israeli court workers broke down the door of a secluded monastery and evicted six Melkite monks who had locked themselves inside, refusing court orders to leave, the police said.
The eviction Sunday came after an Israeli court has ruled that the St. John in the Desert monastery belongs to another order, the Franciscans.
According to Yves Toubai, the head of an organization that supports the Melkite monks right to stay at the monastery, the monks were removed with force by a group of some 20 court workers.
The Melkite monks are members of a Greek Catholic denomination loyal to the Pope, who leased from the Franciscan order in 1978, but their lease expired.
Claudio Baratto, a spokesman for the Franciscans, who are the custodians of Roman Catholic property in the Holy Land, said he was pleased that the eviction took place after previous efforts failed.
"I'm happy of course," Baratto said. "We've been waiting for this."
The Franciscans, who built the cluster of buildings in the hills west of Jerusalem in 1922, want the complex back. They first filed suit in 1994.
The monastery marks the area where Christians believe John the Baptist, who baptized Jesus, lived in solitude, eating locusts and honey and drinking spring water.
The Melkite sect belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church until 1724, when it became Greek Catholic. The Melkites maintain the rituals of the Eastern Orthodox religion.
Some 55,000 Greek Catholics live in the Holy Land.
Lawyers representing the Melkite monks have said the Israeli courts should not have interfered in a dispute that they say should have been decided on by the Vatican.