Thousands of Jews attended prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem to observe the start of the Tisha B’av fasting day on Monday night, days after violence shook the city.
Prayer leaders read aloud from the Book of Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah’s biblical account of the destruction of the First Jewish Temple by invading Babylonians in 586 BC.
The Western Wall is a remnant of the Second Jewish Temple, built on the site of the first and destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
The wall is at the foot of the Haram al-Sharif compound housing the Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden-topped Dome of the Rock in the heart of the Old City, the third holiest site in Islam.
It is the most sacred site for Jews, who refer to the site as the Temple Mount, believing it to be the location of their two former temples.
Tisha B’av commemorates the destruction of both temples, as well several other disasters in Jewish history.
The event comes after relative calm returned to Jerusalem following days of Palestinian protests over al-Aqsa.
Palestinians refused to enter the site for nearly two weeks over new security measures Israel imposed after three Israeli Arabs shot dead two policemen nearby on July 14.
That triggered protests which left six Palestinians dead. A Palestinian broke into a home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and stabbed four Israelis, killing three.
The crisis was ended when the authorities removed the newly installed measures, including metal detectors.
The site has frequently been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Under a decades-old agreement, only Muslims are allowed to pray inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, although anyone can visit, including Jews.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said in a statement that extra units were being deployed throughout the 24-hour period.
While many of the thousands of worshippers at the Western Wall on Monday evening were religious, recognisable by the men’s skullcaps and women’s long dresses, secular Jews also attended the ceremonies.
“I’m not really religious but it’s important for me to come here for this commemoration, this day of mourning,” said 25-year-old Leora Kaufman.
“Tisha B’av is also a reminder of the need to stay united.”
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