The Israel Medical Association and the Finance Ministry decided yesterday to resume negotiations to end doctors' labor sanctions, despite a deadlock that held up talks over the past week.

The parties were close to an agreement last week, but the talks ultimately ran aground when the IMA demanded a change in the ministry's stance; at the same time, medical residents and specialists launched their own protest drive.

The Prime Minister's Office intervened in the dispute for the first time yesterday, with the director general of the office, Eyal Gabbai, summoning representatives from the IMA and the Finance Ministry to his office in an effort to jump-start the negotiations.

The parties left the meeting and resumed their talks, but after two hours, IMA representatives announced that the ministry had not yet shown a readiness to resolve the dispute, which include issues for which additional budgets would have to be provided.

The ministry said it had presented guidelines developed under the auspices of the labor court.

Doctors are demanding NIS 125 million more a year in government funding over an eight-year period than the Finance Ministry is currently willing to provide. The contacts are expected to continue, however, in an effort to break the deadlock. Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman canceled a planned visit to Ukraine to deal with the crisis.

A protest march by doctors from Ramat Gan to Jerusalem resumed yesterday from Kfar Chabad, and IMA chairman Leonid Eidelman is expected to begin the third day of a hunger strike today, which he said he will maintain until the dispute is resolved.

The IMA also has organized meetings with physicians located near hospitals around the country.

At the Bilu Junction, physicians and patients from Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot demonstrated their support for the doctors' cause.

Physicians from Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava also organized a short protest march in the town, while physicians from Wolfson Medical Center in Holon staged a similar procession in civilian dress, saying that they preferred not to look like doctors at a time when being a doctor was humiliating.

About 100 doctors from Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon conducted a demonstration in the center of the city and blocked traffic for about an hour.

More protests expected today

Today, protests are scheduled by physicians from the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, and doctors from three Haifa hospitals are due to hold a protest at the Horev Center in the city this afternoon.

The medical residents who had been pursuing their own labor demands have agreed at this stage to cooperate with the IMA. At a meeting earlier this week between the IMA's Eidelman and Yona Weissbuch of the Mirsham medical residents association, it was decided that the IMA would press the residents' demands in its negotiations with the Finance Ministry.

The residents, who have convened what they are calling a "young physicians delegation," have at the same time decided to organize a drive to enlist residents and specialists from around the country to sign letters of resignation that would take effect 30 days after they are submitted. Residents at Sheba Medical Center explained that the letter would be submitted if what they call their "red lines" in the negotiations are crossed.

These include the immediate creation around the country of 1,000 additional doctor slots, an end to the requirement that medical specialists be on call, a reduction of on-call shifts by residents, a labor agreement of a shorter duration and a substantial pay increase.