Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews were bussed in to disrupt a prayer service by the liberal Women of the Wall group. Members of the group had to be escorted out for their safety after being spit on and threatened.
Clashes broke out between thousands of young, ultra-Orthodox Jews and the Women of the Wall (Neshot Hakotel) movement at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Friday.
The Women of the Wall, a multi-denominational group which has been pushing for equal prayer rights for women at the holy site, held a prayer to mark the group's 30th anniversary as well as the start of the new Jewish month.
Thousands of young ultra-Orthodox Jews were brought in on buses in an attempt to disrupt the Women of the Wall prayer, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The youths threatened, spat at and physically assaulted Women of the Wall members, reported the Haaretz newspaper. The group reported that two women were injured in the clashes.
Bari Weiss, an op-ed staff editor at the The New York Times, said on Twitter that she was also spat on while observing the Women of the Wall event.
Police separate groups
Israeli police did not say whether anyone had been injured in the incident, but they said there had been heightened tensions and curse words lobbed between the two sides.
"During the prayers, friction arose between the worshippers, including the Women of the Wall, including curses and various comments," a police statement said.
The Women of the Wall have been pushing back against rules that bar women from handling Torah scrolls or leading prayer at the Western Wall
Police also accused some members of the Women of the Wall group of setting out to "deliberately create conflict and provocation" by entering the main prayer area.
The authorities added that they separated the two groups to maintain public order and that the Women of the Wall members later continued to pray at a more remote area of the Western Wall that is designated for non-Orthodox worship.
The Women of the Wall have been demanding changes to rules at the site that prohibit women from leading Jewish prayer, wearing prayer shawls or handling Torah scrolls. Friday's prayer also coincided with International Women's Day.
In 2017, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government halted plans to create a mixed-gender prayer site at the Western Wall following apparent pressure from ultra-Orthodox leaders.
rs/sms (AFP, dpa)