Nearly 300 junior doctors at hospitals across Israel failed to turn up to work Monday and hundreds more were poised to resign in a dispute over pay and conditions.
Another 400 resignation letters were to go into effect by midnight, meaning around 700 of the medical residents would no longer be working by the end of the day, in a move expected to provoke a crisis in Israel's public health system.
The health ministry said 270 medics did not show up for work on Monday morning, mostly in hospitals in and around Tel Aviv and the northern port city of Haifa, although media reports later put the number slightly higher at 279.
Leaders of the months-old protest at a Tel Aviv news conference urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also has the health portfolio, to "demonstrate leadership" and urgently find a way to improve their working conditions.
Talks between the residents and the Treasury collapsed on Sunday when medics walked out, complaining the authorities were not taking their demands seriously, media reports said.
The resignations had been due to go into effect on September 4 but have been repeatedly stalled by the intervention of Israel's labour court. The state prosecutor's office was on Monday seeking another court injunction.
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The interns want significant salary increases and changes to their working hours.
Speaking on army radio, Dr Doron Norman, who works at Rambam medical centre in Haifa, warned the walkout would bring emergency rooms grinding to a halt.
"The Treasury has backed the residents up against a wall," Norman told the radio station.
"It seems to me that people don’t understand the depth of the problem or the depth of the crisis," he said, warning the confrontation could mean patients would be left to die.
Netanyahu in a statement promised to "continue efforts aimed at improving the working conditions of residents," and asked their leaders to "pursue negotiations."
He also asked the Treasury to award the young doctors pay rises of "several thousand shekels" to prevent them from turning to the private sector.
Earlier, Netanyahu's office had urged residents to postpone their walkout for two weeks to allow the authorities "to show responsibility and allow Netanyahu time to resolve the crisis in the health system."