Public hospitals across Israel on Thursday began preparations for the expected resignation of hundreds of medical residents next week, over unmet demands for higher salaries and improved working conditions.

Some 960 residents earlier this week tendered their resignation en masse after the government rejected their demands, and said they will quit their posts on Sunday.

Israel's Health Ministry issued a letter to hospital directors on Wednesday instructing them to implement measures to deal with the severe shortage of personnel, which officials described as " unprecedented," the Yedioth Ahronot newspaper reported Thursday.

The ministry's measures include putting physicians on full staffing, canceling planned vacations, delaying scheduled elective surgeries, and calling specialists to staff round-the-clock shifts in emergency rooms. The ministry has also requested the Israel Defense Forces exempt physicians from reserve duty.

A senior executive at the Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv said hospitals will be able to sustain the emergency footing for "no more than two to three weeks."

Israeli physicians last week declared an end to a six-month strike following the signing of an agreement between the Israel Medical Association (IMA) and the Finance Ministry that provides a significant increase to doctor's pay stubs. But medical residents got the short end of the stick, with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz rejecting the bulk of their demands, mainly a 50 shekels (14 U.S. dollars) an hour raise for first-year residents.

Israel's State Prosecutor's Office declared the residents' resignations illegal, saying it breached the agreement signed with the IMA. The Supreme Court will hand down a ruling on the matter next week, which may include forced back-to-work orders.

Senior physicians at two hospitals on Wednesday declared their support for the residents' move, threatening to break away from the IMA for its alleged failure to effectively pressure the government to offer acceptable solutions to the residents' plight.