An Israeli court has intervened to block a planned general strike in Israel that could have disrupted key sectors nationwide. The court said Histadrut, the national labor federation, could not go ahead with its plans for an indefinite strike but could hold a symbolic four-hour-long work stoppage. The court also ordered Histadrut and Israeli government officials to continue negotiating until the next scheduled hearing takes place on Thursday.

Despite the court ruling, the effects are already being felt from the threat of a strike that has the potential of shutting down nearly every sector of the economy.

Air transportation was one of the first sectors to be affected, with Israel's main airport, Ben-Gurion International in Tel Aviv empty. No flights are planned for Monday. Air carriers stepped up operations on Sunday in anticipation of the strike to try to accommodate those wishing to travel to and from Israel.

Delivery of fuel supplies was halted over the weekend leading to long lines at gas stations as motorists rushed to fill their tanks in anticipation of an indefinite strike.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, currently on a three-day visit to Russia, had asked the labor federation to postpone the strike until his return. That appeal was rejected by labor leader Amir Peretz, who nevertheless, emerged from a meeting with government officials late Sunday night to say that there were proposals on the table that could serve as a basis for future talks.

The Histadrut called the strike to protest pension reform and government plans for layoffs.

Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the strike as the "merciless abuse of six and half million Israeli citizens" and warned that the strike itself could lead to thousands of workers losing their jobs, and send businesses into bankruptcy. He also said the government will use all necessary means to protect the public and the economy.

Histadrut leader Peretz has vowed there will be no compromising the workers demands. He called the general strike a campaign to save worker pensions and what he termed the right to a decent livelihood.

The Israeli cabinet has given Mr. Sharon the authority to issue emergency back-to-work orders to keep essential services running. The orders cover the national electric, telephone and water companies, oil refineries, El Al Israel Airlines, the oil and energy sector, military industries, airports, sea ports and train and health services.

Media reports describe the dispute between the government and labor as an assault on Israel's welfare state, which for decades has shielded workers from the uncertainties of a free market economy, while keeping public sector employment high.