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Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, who is also minister for the development of the Negev and Galilee, called the lower salaries paid to doctors in the Negev "an atrocious injustice."

Shalom wrote the CEO of Clalit Health Services, Eli Depes, that he would take action to remedy the situation.

Dozens of Negev local councils intend to petition the High Court of Justice over the region's lack of doctors and higher infant mortality rate, compared to other parts of the country, which they call a violation of the health laws.

A report about the state of health services in the south appeared in Haaretz on Tuesday.

Shalom wrote: "I have learned that the Clalit health maintenance organization gives favored status to on-call doctors in the center of the country and Jerusalem, as opposed to doctors who work and serve residents of the periphery. These wage gaps discriminate against the devoted doctors who now work in the Negev, and this is an atrocious injustice and the basis of social gaps between the center and the periphery."

Shalom continued: "We in the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee are currently promoting, along with the Health Ministry, a plan to grant incentives to doctors who go to the Negev, but discrimination of that kind merely distances us from our objective.

"Dimona, Mitzpeh Ramon, Yeruham and the entire south of the country are all an inseparable part of the state of Israel. The residents who live there are entitled to the best health services, just as in the other parts of the country."

Kadima MK Eli Aflalo wrote to Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, following the Haaretz report, asking him to examine discrimination in the health services in the south.

Aflalo stated: "There are significant gaps in the level of medical services granted to residents of the Negev as compared with residents of the center of the country: There is a shortage of doctors, there is no one to receive patients in the evenings, the doctors in the south get only about half of the sum that doctors get in the center for examining patients, and as a result, the standard of medicine is affected."

Aflalo added: "I'd like to see the reaction of a resident of Tel Aviv who comes to a clinic with a medical emergency and discovers there are no doctors after 7 P.M. When there is a gap of almost twice as many beds per capita in the center than in the south - 0.6 beds per 1,000 residents in the south as compared with 1.1 beds per 1,000 residents in the center of the country. This is clear discrimination that has to be addressed immediately."