Thousands of worshipers visited the Western Wall Saturday night for the start of the Jewish day of mourning commemorating the destruction of the ancient temples that once stood atop the adjacent Temple Mount compound.
Israeli police boosted their presence at the Jerusalem holy site for Tisha B’Av, which began Saturday evening and ends 25 hours later.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Friday that “hundreds of extra police will be carrying out security measures in and around the Old City of Jerusalem” over the weekend.
Reports Saturday said some 2,000 people flocked to the Western Wall Plaza to recite the evening prayers and listen to the Book of Eicha, or Lamentations, which tells of the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonian Empire in the 6th century BCE.
Advocates for Jewish prayer rights at the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest site in Islam, have called on Jews to visit the sensitive area, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif compound or the Noble Sanctuary.
Non-Muslims are allowed to visit but not to pray there, under arrangements agreed to by Israel after it captured the area from Jordan in the 1967 war.
The Palestinians have accused Israel of trying to change the status quo at the site, a charge it has repeatedly and vehemently denied.
Palestinian fears of Israeli intentions to undermine Muslim control of the Temple Mount have been at the heart of a wave of Palestinian terrorism and violence since October in which 34 Israelis and four foreign nationals have been killed. Some 220 Palestinians have died in the same period, most of them when carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, and others in clashes with Israeli security forces, according to Israeli authorities.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly accused the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas of inciting violence against Israel by misrepresenting the history of the Temple Mount and Israel’s intentions there.
Aside from marking the destruction of the temples, Tisha B’Av also marks other tragedies endured by the Jewish people that are said to have occurred on the same day, including the expulsion edict from Spain in 1492 and the beginning of the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942.