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The Tel Aviv Regional Labor Court gave doctors a boost late last week by ruling that now was not the time to issue back-to-work orders. This weekend will mark three months of sanctions by the Israel Medical Association over pay and work conditions in public medicine.

Negotiations between the doctors and the treasury are to continue today, and two more meetings are planned for later in the week. But the parties are still far from an agreement on any of the issues.

"The state went to court to limit damage to the public," the Finance Ministry said after last week's ruling. "Negotiations with the Israel Medical Association will continue in the coming week, and if patients are more seriously harmed, the state will consider further steps."

The association's director, Dr. Leonid Eidelman, has warned the Finance Ministry that at the three-month mark, doctors will begin working under work-to-rule sanctions; that is, under 1977 staffing levels, and under the last wage agreement, of 2000. At that time, the agreement stipulated that residents would be on call overnight no more than six times a month and specialists would not be on call at all.

Over the past few weeks, the medical association has collected data from hospital wards throughout the country to determine how the step would affect hospitals' functioning. It is believed that work to rule would result in the gradual shutdown and combining of wards during July so that there would be enough doctors on call overnight.

Attempts by Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman to get the doctors to retract the threat of working to rule have been unsuccessful.

The sanctions are continuing this week - today and Tuesday, for all outpatients and in day hospitalization wards north of Tel Aviv, including at Tel Hashomer, Beilinson, Schneider, Hasharon and Meir hospitals. On Monday and Wednesday, sanctions will be in place at hospitals in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the south, including Ichilov, Wolfson and Assaf Harofeh. On Thursday, hospitals will work normally.