Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that Barzilai Medical Center's fortified emergency room will be built according to plan, despite the discovery of ancient burial ground in its intended location.
Netanyahu made the decision in his capacity as acting health minister, ordering the graves be relocated.
Eyal Gabai, director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, told Ynet that "we will make sure to relocate the graves with the utmost respect. The new ER will go up as planned."
Plans to build a new, fortified emergency room for Ashkelon's medical center have been discussed for years. The project was recently put on hold after initial work at the new ER's location uncovered an ancient burial site.
Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman promptly suspended construction, and three weeks ago, the government voted 11 to 10 to move the new ER to a different location, despite no evidence suggesting that the site contained Jewish graves.
The relocation project, which would have cost the State millions, sparked mass public criticism, eventually leading the government to entrust Netanyahu with the final decision on the matter.
Following the decision, Netanyahu said he hoped his coalition would prove stable, telling his associates that he wished to continue his cooperation with United Torah Judaism party.
'Common sense has prevailed'
The Deputy Health Minister's Office released the following statement: "The deputy minister's opinion is well known – he is against relocating the graves. The deputy minister will call a United Torah Judaism faction meeting within the next few days in order to decide on future moves."
Israel Medical Association Chairman Dr. Leonid Idelman welcomed Netanyahu's decision, saying "it will help save lives. I hope construction starts in the next few days."
The Barzilai Medical Center welcomed the decision, saying it was awaiting breaking ground.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak also welcomed the decision, saying "common sense has prevailed."
Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin was elated by the decision. "I'm grateful and happy about the prime minister's brave decision. I hope that the work to move the graves begins tomorrow, so we can break ground. The people of Ashkelon have proven that a public fight can change (government) decisions."
As for the sprouting threats by haredi elements to stage mass demonstrations should the graves be moved, Vaknin said that "this is a small group of people, not the entire haredi community. If we come to Ashkelon we'll show them we can stand up to them, too."
Meital Yasur-Beit Or contributed to this report