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The Knesset passed a preliminary reading Wednesday of a bill to impose harsher penalties for assaulting medical staff.

The bill, initiated by Meretz MK Haim Oron and Kadima MK Yoel Hasson, came after a Rehovot doctor had been seriously wounded by a patient in a stabbing incident last week on the premises of the city's Kaplan hospital.

The suspect, 64, told the police that he had planned to attack his doctor, urologist Marius Gai. He said the doctor had ignored his suffering and recently postponed an operation he had been scheduled for.

The bill suggests that assaulting medical staff will result in a mandatory prison sentence of six months to six years. Today, the punishment for assaulting state employees is a prison sentence of up to five years.

The MKs who initiated the bill said that Israel has recently witnessed growing violence against medical staff, and that the new amendment is to establish a "zero tolerance" approach.

Oron criticized Health Minister Yacov Ben Yizri for not attending a special session dedicated to the matter, which was held in the presence of dozens of doctors.

"I am unable to understand or shed light on the Health Minister's conduct on this issue as well as on others," he said.

On Monday, some 50 doctors demonstrated outside the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, calling on Minister Ben Yizri to immediately set up a national policy for the protection of doctors from violence in hospitals and clinics.