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Ultra-Orthodox Jews attack reformers at Jerusalem holy site

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Jerusalem (AFP)

Thousands of young ultra-Orthodox Jews mobbed women seeking equal prayer rights at one of Judaism's holiest sites on Friday, leading police to escort them away from Jerusalem's Western Wall.

The Women of the Wall group has for 30 years been demanding changes to rules at the site barring females from leading Jewish prayer, wearing ritual prayer shawls or handling Torah scrolls.

A police statement said the prayer space in front of the Wall was packed with worshippers marking the start of the new Jewish month, according to the lunar calendar.

"During the prayers, friction arose between the worshippers, including the Women of the Wall, including curses and various comments," it said.

Video posted by Haaretz newspaper showed a crowd of black-hatted ultra-orthodox men jeering and trying to shove their way toward the rival group.

"Thousands of ultra-Orthodox youth violently disrupt @Womenofthewall 30th anniversary prayer service," the group wrote on Twitter.

An AFP photographer at the scene said young ultra-Orthodox women, bussed in for the occasion, also joined the attack.

Police, she said, opened a corridor for the Women of the Wall to leave the site in safety.

"At the instruction of their rabbis, thousands of teenage girls from religious high schools around the country gathered at the Western Wall while hundreds of young ultra-Orthodox men tried to break through police barricades to attack the prayer group," Haaretz reported.

"To maintain public order police separated the two sides and arrested a 20-year-old man after he attempted to attack a policeman," the police statement said.

It added that in order to allow the ultra-Orthodox to continue their prayers "as usual" the reformers went to pray at a more remote stretch of the wall, designated for non-Orthodox worship.

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