Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Israel's excavation work at the Mugrabi gate near the Temple Mount was a "provocative action which would lead to the deterioration of hostilities in the region," the Fars news agency reported Wednesday evening.
The Iranian president added that "destruction, conflict and tension constitute the nature of the Zionist regime."
He also called on the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the world Muslim states to "foil the devilish plot of the Israeli regime," and slammed the United Nations over what he described as "their silence in the face of the incident."
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Mohammad Ali Hosseini echoed Ahmadinejad's statement, claiming that "the destruction of al-Aqsa was part of a premeditated plot against Muslims."
Supreme leader calls for revenge
A few hours earlier, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned the Jerusalem excavations and called on Islamic nations to retaliate against Israel.
''The world of Islam should show a serious reaction to the Zionist regime's insult to Al-Aqsa Mosque,'' Iranian state television quoted Khamenei as saying during a meeting with Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, leader of the Islamic Jihad organization.
"Silence is not an option given these actions, the Muslim world must respond," said Khamenei. Khamenei did not say what sort of response he intended, but said Israel should be made to ''regret'' what it is doing.
Khamenei also addressed the violent clashes within the Palestinian Authority: "Everyone, including the Palestinian factions and Islamic states, needs to make an effort to agree on a ceasefire soon so that the enemy's plot will fail."
"Hizbullah's victory, the successes of Hamas and Iran's achievements all fulfill Allah's promises and fill the hearts of Muslims with hope and determination," said Khamenei.
Syria joins criticism
Meanwhile Damascus also condemned the Mugrabi works on Wednesday. A Syrian Foreign Ministry official told the state-run news agency that, "Syria strongly condemns these violations, and considers them a blatant affront to Muslim waqfs and the feelings of Muslims worldwide."
Jordanian King Abdullah also had harsh words regarding the works on Tuesday: "Israeli excavation works near the al-Aqsa mosque in the holy city of Jerusalem have led to a dangerous rise in Middle East tensions and could derail revival of Arab-Israeli peace talks.
"What Israel is doing in its practices and attacks against our sacred Muslim sites in Jerusalem and al-Aqsa is a blatant violation that is not acceptable under any pretext," the monarch was quoted by the state news agency Petra as saying.
Islamic leader arrested
Israeli police, meanwhile, detained Shiekh Raad Salah, head of northern chapter of the Islamic Movement, along with six other activists on Wednesday after they attempted to enter the excavation site near the Temple Mount.
The men were detained after a confrontation with police forces at the entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem.
Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni responded on Wednesday to the criticism against Israel, saying "the Temple
Mount is the most sacred place for the Jewish people. The State of Israel would never harm freedom of religion to people of all faiths in Jerusalem.
"There are irresponsible people, who know perfectly well that there is no damage being done to any holy site, who are abusing the Israeli democracy to incite religious sentiments for political gains," she said.
Yaakov Lappin, Lilach Shoval and news agencies contributed to this report