Thousands congregate for Priestly Blessing at Western Wall

Birkat Kohanim ceremony takes place each year during the intermediate days of both Passover and Succot; prayer area for women was expanded for event.

Birchat Kohanim Passover 2014 (photo credit: screenshot)
Birchat Kohanim Passover 2014
(photo credit: screenshot)
One day after rioting on the Temple Mount threatened to disrupt the annual Passover pilgrimage of thousands of Jews from across the globe to the Western Wall, some 30,000 worshipers gathered at the Western Wall for the Priestly Blessing without incident on Thursday morning, police said.
According to the police, the Temple Mount was closed all day to visitors to avert another riot, as hundreds of officers from undercover, special patrol, riot-control and border units were on hand throughout the Old City to ensure order.
“Police units were on site at all times after security assessments were made,” said spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. “Prayers went quietly and respectfully at 9:30 a.m. as planned.”
Rosenfeld added that helicopters working in coordination with ground units circled the area from above.
“We left nothing to chance and made certain everyone was safe and able to pray without any problems,” he added.
The mass Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim) ceremony, takes place each year during the intermediate days of both Passover and Succot.
Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef were in attendance. The prayer area for women at the Western Wall has been expanded to include a roofed section, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation announced on Wednesday.
Two new spaces have been created inside the women’s section providing for a covered prayer space for the first time. Halls at the northern end of the current Western Wall plaza have been available for men for many years. The current roofed spaces for women are temporary arrangements but will be made into permanent structures in the future, the foundation said. 
During Wednesday morning’s riots, hundreds of Palestinian youths pelted police with rocks and firecrackers upon opening the Mugrabi Gate to visitors at approximately 7:30 a.m.
One officer was lightly wounded and two of the assailants were arrested after police used stun grenades and tear gas outside al-Aksa Mosque to disperse the crowd.
Several of the assailants barricaded themselves inside the mosque, which police did not enter to avert escalating the situation.
The entrance to the holy site has been closed to non-Muslim visitors since Wednesday’s violence.
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.