Jews hold mass Passover blessing at Western Wall

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A picture taken through the window of a restaurant shows a reflection of Jews taking part in the Passover priestly blessing at Jerusalem's Western Wall on April 13, 2017, with the Dome of the Rock seen in the background

Tens of thousands of Jews congregated at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Thursday for a mass priestly blessing on Passover, a tradition of recent decades echoing a pilgrimage from antiquity.

With their backs to the wall and covered in white prayer shawls hiding their heads and arms, the hundreds of male priests raised their hands and chanted the words of the blessing.

Many in the crowd raised their smartphones to take pictures or video of the event.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which oversees the holy site, estimated that 80,000 people attended the blessing, held twice in the morning, the separated crowds of men and women spilling out from the wall's plaza to surrounding areas.

Many of the participants were ultra-Orthodox Jews in dark suits and hats, but representatives of other segments of Israeli society, as well as the occasional perplexed Asian tourist, could be seen in the crowds.

The blessing is part of daily prayers chanted in synagogues worldwide, but since the early 1970s, twice a year -- on Passover and Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles -- such mass events are held, evoking the biblical dictum of pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem on certain holidays.

To members of Israel's small Ethiopian Jewish community, being near the site of the historic temples on Passover has special significance, with many having arrived from the African nation since the 1980s.

Many of their elders attended, the women wearing white robes over colourful dresses, the men in their finest suits.

"This is their dream, from days of yore," said Avi, a 42-year-old man of Ethiopian ancestry of the community's older members.

"They came to Israel, and every opportunity they have they come here," said Avi, who travelled from the northern city of Afula to participate in the event.

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.

It is accessible to non-Muslims via an access ramp, where dozens of Jewish pilgrims looked down at the Western Wall ceremony as they awaited their visit on Thursday.

Jews are allowed to visit but not pray at the compound to avoid provoking tensions.

The hilltop site in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem has seen repeated clashes, with Palestinians fearing Israel will seek to assert further control over it.

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