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Throngs crowd Western Wall for holiday blessing under heavy guard

Several arrests made as 150,000 gather for ceremony; thousands of security personnel on high alert

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

  • Thousands gather at the Western Well for the annual Sukkot priestly blessing ceremony, September 30, 2015. (Photo by Flash90)
    Thousands gather at the Western Well for the annual Sukkot priestly blessing ceremony, September 30, 2015. (Photo by Flash90)
  • Thousands gather at the Western Well for the annual Sukkot priestly blessing ceremony, September 30, 2015. (Photo by Flash90)
    Thousands gather at the Western Well for the annual Sukkot priestly blessing ceremony, September 30, 2015. (Photo by Flash90)
  • Thousands gather at the Western Well for the annual Sukkot priestly blessing ceremony, September 30, 2015. (Photo by Flash90)
    Thousands gather at the Western Well for the annual Sukkot priestly blessing ceremony, September 30, 2015. (Photo by Flash90)
  • Thousands gather at the Western Well for the annual Sukkot priestly blessing ceremony, September 30, 2015. (Photo by Flash90)
    Thousands gather at the Western Well for the annual Sukkot priestly blessing ceremony, September 30, 2015. (Photo by Flash90)
  • Thousands gather at the Western Well for the annual Sukkot priestly blessing ceremony, September 30, 2015. (Photo by Flash90)
    Thousands gather at the Western Well for the annual Sukkot priestly blessing ceremony, September 30, 2015. (Photo by Flash90)
  • Thousands gather at the Western Well for the annual Sukkot priestly blessing ceremony, September 30, 2015. (Photo by Flash90)
    Thousands gather at the Western Well for the annual Sukkot priestly blessing ceremony, September 30, 2015. (Photo by Flash90)
  • Thousands gather at the Western Well for the annual Sukkot priestly blessing ceremony, September 30, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Israel Police)
    Thousands gather at the Western Well for the annual Sukkot priestly blessing ceremony, September 30, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Israel Police)
  • Jewish worshipers cover themselves with prayer shawls as they pray in front of the Western Wall,  in Jerusalem's Old City, during Passover, April 6, 2015. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Jewish worshipers cover themselves with prayer shawls as they pray in front of the Western Wall, in Jerusalem's Old City, during Passover, April 6, 2015. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At least 150,000 Jewish worshipers gathered under heavy police guard at the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem’s Old City Wednesday morning for the traditional priestly blessing performed during the Sukkot festival, police said.

Over 3,500 officers stationed across the Old City for the ceremony, amid heightened tensions after several days of unrest surrounding the Temple Mount.

Security forces were on high alert in an attempt to prevent further unrest after 10 days of violent outbreaks on and around the compound, which sits above the Western Wall and is revered by both Jews and Muslims.

Three Muslim women were arrested for attacking police officers — two on the Temple Mount and one in the Old City’s Muslim quarter — and four Jewish men were removed from the Mount after disobeying police instructions.

Jews are forbidden from praying at the site but can visit under police protection.

Thousands gather at the Western Well for the annual Sukkot priestly blessing ceremony, September 30, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Israel Police)
Thousands gather at the Western Well for the annual Sukkot priestly blessing ceremony, September 30, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Israel Police)

Police also announced Wednesday they had arrested 13 people in East Jerusalem in an ongoing crackdown on rock throwing, since a fatal attack earlier this month.

During the Western Wall ceremony, hundreds of Kohanim — descendants of the caste of priests in charge of ritual in the ancient Jewish temple — blessed the crowds packed into the Western Wall plaza.

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

Police say there will be high security again Wednesday evening when huge crowds are expected at the Western Wall Plaza for the Hakhel ceremony.

The ceremony is a biblical tradition that marks the end of the seventh-year agricultural sabbatical year known as shmita. The ceremony is open to the public, and will include the president, Knesset speaker, Jerusalem’s mayor, Knesset members and Israel’s two chief rabbis.

Sukkot, which began at sundown on Sunday, is a week-long holiday celebrating the harvest and remembering the Jews’ 40-year journey through the desert. It is one of the three biblical pilgrimage festivals when Jews traditionally visit Jerusalem.

AFP contributed to this report.

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