Testimony by principals of three Petah Tikva schools that have refused to enroll Ethiopian pupils has been postponed until Sunday, the Education Ministry said yesterday.

The postponement came at the request of the schools' lawyers, the ministry said in a statement. However, representatives of the schools said the principals had no intention of attending the hearing on Sunday because they felt the results were already clear.

With just four days to the beginning of the school year, most Ethiopian pupils in Petah Tikva still need to find a school that will take them in.

The refusal to enroll the pupils has generated severe criticism, with Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar telling Haaretz that the schools have to "come to their senses and enroll the students or bear the consequences."

The Education Ministry remained staunch on its decision that the three schools - Lamerhav, Daat Mevinim, and Darkei Noam - must absorb the 50 Ethiopian pupils that have recently arrived in Petah Tikva.

"We will take the most drastic steps against the schools that refuse to enroll the pupils, especially where school budgets and licenses are concerned," the minister said.

Sources at the ministry confirmed that if the private schools continue to avoid taking the pupils, funding from the ministry will be withdrawn, and sanctions may lead to the termination of the schools' licenses.

Speaking to high school students later that day, President Shimon Peres said that if he were a student, he would "jump on a bus and go to Petah Tikva to demonstrate against those schools."

He said "the opposition to absorbing those students is a disgrace no person in Israel can bear."

A joint statement from the three schools said that "we invite His Excellency the President to visit our schools on September 1. He will see that our schools have Ethiopian pupils and handicapped pupils as well.

"We recommend that he then go on and visit all other 40 schools in Petah Tikva, where he won't see a single new-immigrant child."