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Three bathers on Saturday drowned -two at a beach in Netanya and another in the sea off the southern city of Ashdod- as lifeguards went on strike to protest stalled negotiations over their salaries.

Lifeguards ceased working at 17:00 across the country apart from in Haifa and Tel Aviv to demonstrate against local authorities' alleged foot-dragging in talks over a new work agreement.

Lifeguards are asking for a raise in the salaries of new employees who earn NIS 19.5 ($4.50) an hour.

The Histadrut labor union that is representing the lifeguards informed a labor court they would cease working at 13:00 on Friday and Saturday because talks with local authorities over a raise have reached an impasse.A labor court ruled lifeguards in Haifa and Tel Aviv are not allowed to join the strike because of clauses in their contracts.

Lifeguards elsewhere would be allowed to strike for only the last two hours of their shifts, from 17:00.

"It is the only proper way of balancing between the right to strike and imperiling lives," court judges said.

Earlier Saturday, a body washed up ashore near the northern village of Kfar Galim.

An initial inquiry revealed the man had been dead for a couple of hours before his body drifted onto the beach where it was found.

Police said they would have the unidentified male body to undergo an autopsy to determine the cause of death.