Tens of thousands attend Jewish Passover blessing at Western Wall

The "priestly blessing" takes place twice a year at one of Judaism's holiest sites in Jerusalem (AFP Photo/Thomas COEX)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Tens of thousands of people gathered at Jerusalem's Western Wall on Monday for a traditional Jewish blessing for the Passover holiday.

Police estimated the crowd at more than 30,000 for the two morning ceremonies.

US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, an Orthodox Jew, was among those in attendance, an AFP photographer reported.

The "priestly blessing" takes place twice a year at one of Judaism's holiest sites during the week-long holidays of Passover and Sukkot, which occurs in the autumn.

With white prayer shawls covering their heads, Jewish men descended from the caste of priests -- called Cohanim -- raise their hands and chant the words of the blessing in the ceremony.

The blessing is part of daily prayers chanted in synagogues worldwide, but mass gatherings have been held since the early 1970s twice a year evoking the biblical dictum of pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem on certain holidays.

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 Haram al-Sharif compound, the third-holiest site in Islam that includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock.

It is the holiest site to Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.

Jews are allowed to visit but not pray at the Al-Aqsa compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem to avoid provoking tensions.

Israel occupied east Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.