An ancient pagan altar
Ancient pagan altar discovered during excavations at Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon in May 2010. Photo by Israel Antiquities Authority
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Israeli archaeologists say workers have uncovered an ancient pagan altar while clearing ground for construction of a hotly disputed hospital emergency room in Ashkelon.

They say the discovery proves an ancient cemetery at the site that has been at the center of protests by ultra-Orthodox Jews does not contain the graves of Jews.

Protesters claim an emergency room extension at Barzilai Hospital in the city of Ashkelon is being built on an ancient Jewish cemetery. They demonstrated there when officials began removing graves this week, and rioting erupted in ultra-Orthodox areas of Jerusalem.

The Israel Antiquities Authority said Thursday the discovery of the 2,000-year-old incense altar, along with the nature of the graves, shows the cemetery was pagan.