JERUSALEM (AFP) - US President Donald Trump on Monday (May 22) became the first sitting US president to visit the Western Wall in the disputed city of Jerusalem, placing his hand on one of the most sacred sites in Judaism.
The Western Wall is the holiest site where Jews can pray. Mr Trump, wearing a black skullcap, paused in front of it, then placed what appeared to be a written prayer or note between its stones, as is custom.
He was not accompanied by any Israeli leaders. Security was tight, with the usually bustling Old City, where the Western Wall is located, essentially on lockdown and the plaza leading to the site cleared.
Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism and is married to one of the President's top aides Jared Kushner, also visited the women's side of the wall.
Under strict interpretation of Jewish law, men and women must pray separately there.
The Western Wall is the last remnant of the supporting wall of the second Jewish temple, built by King Herod and destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
The visit there drew controversy before Mr Trump even left Washington, when US officials declined to say whether it belonged to Israel.
The status of Jerusalem is ultra-sensitive and has been among the most difficult issues in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem, where the Western Wall is located, and the West Bank in 1967 in moves never recognised by the international community.
It later annexed east Jerusalem and claims the entire city as its capital. The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
The traditional US position has been that Jerusalem's status must be negotiated between the two sides.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson finessed a question about whether he agreed with Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, who said over the weekend that the wall was part of Israel.
"The wall is part of Jerusalem," he told reporters onboard Air Force One while the president was en route to Israel from Saudi Arabia.
More than 10,000 police officers, border police, special patrol units and undercover units have been deployed to secure the visit, Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Mr Trump's visit to the wall came as part of his first trip abroad as president. The trip includes stops at important sites for Christians, Muslims and Jews.
The first leg of his trip was in Saudi Arabia, while later stops will include the Vatican.