JERUSALEM • US Vice-President Mike Pence yesterday visited Jerusalem's Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, as he wrapped up a trip to the disputed city Washington has declared to be Israel's capital.
Mr Pence and his wife Karen visited the wall separately, as required by the ultra-Orthodox Jewish authorities who run the site based on strict interpretation of religious law.
The Vice-President, wearing a black skullcap, inserted a piece of paper inside a crack in the ancient wall's stones in accordance with the tradition of leaving a prayer.
He then placed his right hand on the wall before stepping backwards and gazing at the site for a few moments and signing the guest book.
No Israeli government officials accompanied Mr Pence on the visit.
"It is my great honour to pray here at this sacred place. God bless the Jewish people and God bless the state of Israel always," he wrote.
"Very inspiring," he said later.
After visiting the wall, Mrs Pence was seen visiting a shop nearby in Jerusalem's Old City. The couple were due to leave Israel yesterday.
The Western Wall is among the last remnants of the second Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. It lies in East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.
Many Israelis are likely to interpret the Western Wall visit as Mr Pence further backing their claim over the entire city.
Mr Pence followed in the footsteps of Mr Donald Trump, who became the first sitting US President to visit the Western Wall last May.
Since arriving on Sunday, Mr Pence has repeatedly reaffirmed Mr Trump's Dec 6 declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, though he has also reiterated that the final borders must be negotiated.
The Palestinians have been deeply angered by the declaration and are boycotting Mr Pence's visit. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians see the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
The move by the United States to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital broke with decades of international consensus that the city's status should be settled as part of a two-state peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
As journalists gathered to cover Mr Pence's visit to the wall, women reporters criticised what they called discrimination after they were forced to stand behind men under rules enforced by the Jewish ultra-Orthodox authorities.
The wall's gender separation rule effectively forced female journalists to stand behind their male counterparts, leaving them with worse access. A podium erected for journalists to cover the visit had a barrier between the male and female sides of the wall, with the women forced to stand behind it.
After complaints, a tarp covering the podium was removed, allowing women to stand on chairs to be able to see over male journalists.
Some women journalists at the site were posting on Twitter about the separation, using the hashtag #PenceFence. "I feel like a second-class citizen," said Ms Tal Schneider, a journalist with Israeli paper Globes. "We are not allowed to do our work."
Ms Schneider said she was told by US officials that the rules were required by the ultra-Orthodox authorities at the site.
The holy site has long seen controversy over the separation between women and men. Reformist Jewish movements have sought to change the rule, but the ultra-Orthodox authorities have firmly refused, citing Jewish law.