10/10/2011 10:41 EDT | Updated 12/10/2011 05:12 EST

Hundreds of Israeli medical residents quit jobs at hospitals, demanding higher pay

JERUSALEM - Activists say hundreds of Israeli medical residents have resigned in protest their low pay and the high cost of living.

At least 340 of the nation's approximately 5,000 residents quit and skipped work Monday after weeks of failed negotiations.

Protest leader Dr. Yona Waisbuch says the doctors demand higher salaries, particularly for newly qualified specialists. Waisbuch says these doctors struggle to support families on annual salaries of about $40,000.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz warns the resignations endanger patients' lives.

Israel has a socialized medical system in which all citizens are covered. Doctors are paid salaries by hospitals or HMO funds.

Israelis have staged demonstrations in recent months to protest spiraling costs of housing, education and consumer goods.