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Thousands of Jews throng Western Wall for holiday blessing

Tens of thousands of Jewish worshippers massed at Jerusalem's Western Wall as part of celebrations for the Sukkot holiday, September 30, 2015
Mass priestly blessings are held at the Western Wall twice a year, for Sukkot and Passover

Thousands of Jews gathered at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for a holiday blessing on Wednesday, a day after UNESCO adopted a resolution that Israel says omits Judaism's connection to the site.

Known as the priestly blessing, the ceremony involved Jews from the Cohanim priestly caste gathering to bless crowds marking Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles.

Men and women jostled to get close to the gender-segregated wall, with the Western Wall Heritage Foundation estimating tens of thousands participated in the blessings during the morning, while police spoke of thousands.

Cohanim draped in traditional white prayer shawls blessed the crowds, which included Jews from around the world as well as tourists.

The blessing involves the raising of hands in a form similar to the "Vulcan salute" Leonard Nimoy borrowed from Judaism for his "Star Trek" role as Mr Spock.

Mass priestly blessings are held at the Western Wall twice a year, for Sukkot and Passover.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said there was "heightened security" throughout Jerusalem's Old City, but no incidents were reported.

The prayers came a day after UNESCO passed a controversial resolution which Israel said omitted the Jewish connection to both the Western Wall and the adjacent Al-Aqsa mosque compound or Temple Mount.

The Western Wall is a remnant of a supporting wall of the Second Temple complex, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Above it lies the plaza where the temple once stood and which now houses the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam. It is the holiest site to Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.

The resolution on "occupied Palestine" was endorsed by UNESCO’s executive board on Tuesday, after being approved at the committee stage last week.

Referring throughout to "the occupying power," it condemns Israel for restricting Muslims' access to the Al-Aqsa compound and criticises damage by security forces to the site and nearby excavations.

Israel is furious that the resolution refers to the site only by its Muslim names Al-Aqsa and Al-Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary.

The site is located in east Jerusalem, annexed by Israel in 1967 in a move never recognised by the international community.

Ben Frank, a neurologist from Miami in the United States, had travelled for the religious holidays and to visit two of his children studying in Jewish religious schools in Israel.

He said the UNESCO resolution annoyed him but that the religious ceremony was an important moment.

"There are always going to be people who hate the Jews," he said. "How can they say we have no connection with this place?" he added, gesturing to the thousands of worshippers around him.

Frank said he wanted Jews to return to praying on the Temple Mount.

Under a status quo agreement, only Muslims are allowed to pray at the Al-Aqsa/Temple Mount site, while Jews may visit but not pray –- instead worshipping at the Western Wall.


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