Ultra-Orthodox Israelis Protest Grave Removal

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Plans to expand an important hospital in southern Israel have sparked protests over ancient graves unearthed at the construction site.

Israeli antiquities authorities began opening and removing the contents of some of the ancient graves on Sunday to make way for the construction of a hospital emergency room at Barzilai Medical Center in the city of Ashkelon.

The move elicited outrage from ultra-orthodox Jews who don't want what they believe to be Jewish burial remains disturbed.

But archeologists say the graves likely belonged to Christians or pagans from the period of the Crusades, approximately 1,400 years ago.

Initially, the government had agreed to relocate the planned facility. But on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had reversed the decision.

"When possible, we consult, and we try to make concessions to all parts of the public," Netanyahu said. "But eventually our commitment as a government is to the general good."

Barzilai Hospital is located near the Gaza Strip. The facility treats Israeli casualties of Gaza rocket attacks as well as Palestinians from the Gaza Strip in need of specialized or urgent medical care.

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