The director of Al-Aqsa Mosque Omar al-Kiswani said more than 280 Israeli "extremist" settlers entered the mosque as they were being protected by the Israeli police and special forces.
Once inside the mosque, they performed Jewish prayers and provoked Muslim worshippers, which led to a clash that prompted the Israeli police to intercede and arrest four Palestinian women, Kiswani told Middle East Eye.
"Storming al-Aqsa Mosque in such a blatant way and encouraging settlers to raid the mosque will ignite a religious war," Kiswani warned. "We hold the Israeli government responsible for these attacks and provocations."
The irruption occurred on the second day of Hanukkah, which runs this year from Dec. 22 to 30.
Hundreds of Israeli settlers stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque under protection of Israeli police on the first day of Hanukkah. Right-wing Israeli groups had previously called for incursions onto the holy site during the days of the festival. pic.twitter.com/gr1Ekx9zlU
Israeli settlers frequently storm the Muslim holy site, and usually illicitly perform prayers, where they believe the second Jewish Temple was built.
Some Israeli right-wing activists have pushed for the destruction of the compound to make way for a third Jewish Temple. They have repeatedly sought to build support for an increased Jewish presence at the site, despite a longstanding joint guardianship deal between Israel and Jordan, with the latter supposedly controlling Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. It was also Islam’s first Qibla, the direction towards which Muslims must turn to pray before that was changed to Mecca, located in present-day Saudi Arabia.
Palestinians are concerned that settler incursions inside the Al-Aqsa compound may start to normalize Israeli pretensions to the area, and eradicate Palestinians' aspirations for their rights, dignity, and their own state, with occupied East Jerusalem as its capital.