JERUSALEM -- Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak testified Tuesday that the Palestinian uprising against Israel was premeditated, although Yasser Arafat's blaming of the violence on Ariel Sharon's visit to a disputed holy site was "not a bad pretext."
Barak said he permitted Sharon to go to the walled hilltop compound in Jerusalem on Sept. 28, 2000, because there were no clear warnings by Israeli or Palestinian security officials that his visit would trigger rioting.
During Sharon's tour of the shrine, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, scuffling broke out among Palestinian demonstrators.
The Palestinians contend that fighting, now in its 14th month, was triggered by Sharon's visit, which they viewed as a major provocation. Sharon has acknowledged he toured the site to stake Israel's claim to it.
Barak testified before a three-member inquiry into the riots that spread to Israeli Arab communities comprising almost a fifth of Israel's 6.5 million citizens. The commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Theodor Or has been hearing testimony for nine months.
Barak said Sharon's visit to the holy site was largely intended as a challenge to his government, not to provoke the Palestinians.