President Shimon Peres visited Israel's chief Sephardic rabbi on Sunday and demanded that a solution be found to the relocation of Barzilai Medical Center's emergency room, calling it a "scandal."
The president said during the meeting with RabbI Shlomo Amar, "This is the only hospital in the region, and the southernmost on the western side of the Negev. I see great importance in fortifying it."
A few months ago, Israel's chief rabbis, Rabbi Amar and Rabbi Yona Metzger, signed a halachic ruling permitting that fortification work be continued on the Ashkelon hospital's emergency room after construction was halted half a year ago when ancient graves were discovered on the site.
Despite the halachic ruling, Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman stipulated that the emergency room must be relocated so as not to disturb the graves. The relocation will cost another NIS 90 million (about $24.3 million).
In light of public pressure, a professional commission was appointed to examine the issue. The commission is headed by Health Ministry Director-General Eyal Gabai and will issue its recommendations after the Passover holiday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged the commission, along with the relevant professionals, to examine options for building a fortified emergency room "in a manner that will not present any threat to human life." He hopes that a compromise will be reached that will allow for the relocation of the graves.
Earlier Sunday, Peres visited Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef at his Jerusalem home. Upon departing, Peres said he spoke with the rabbi about the serious issues facing Israel today.
"The social gap – that there are so many children who still don't have anything to eat. Today we have the means, and we must overcome this. The second issue that arose in our conversation is the unity of the people. The third issue is the need to maintain good relations with the United States," Peres concluded.
The president also addressed the issue of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, "We must do everything in order to release him. The formal situation as of now is that Israel has yet to receive a response (from Hamas) on what was offered."