Histadrut Labor Federation chairman Ofer Eini on Sunday took a leading role in negotiations between the government and the striking Secondary School Teachers Organization (SSTO) in an effort to end the labor dispute and return teachers to their classrooms. In a specially arranged meeting, the Histadrut's executive committee endorsed Eini as the new lead mediator between the government and the SSTO. Union of Local Authorities (ULA) chairman Adi Eldar unexpectedly quit last week when negotiations repeatedly stalled. The strike has been going on for more than three weeks "The executive committee of the Histadrut supports Ofer Eini in moving to take an active role in the management of the negotiations between the teachers and the government to assist the sides in coming to an agreement of principles," a Histadrut spokesman said. "We [the executive committee] expect that chairman Eini will do everything in his power to help them conclude the negotiations with an operative agreement that meets the needs of both the teachers and the government, so this issue can be brought to a close." Eini was holding late-night meetings with Finance Ministry representatives and Education Minister Yuli Tamir at press time. Late last week, National Labor Court President Steve Adler gave the teachers until Sunday to respond to a petition demanding the resumption of teaching in grades 11 and 12. Adler extended the deadline until Monday, giving the two sides time to reach an agreement before teachers are forced back to work. In empowering Eini to help negotiate an end to the strike, the Histadrut also said he should take any steps necessary to resolve the conflict, not excluding the possibility of a general strike as a sign of solidarity with the embattled high school teachers. Earlier in the day, the SSTO submitted its response to the court regarding the request to end the strike by legal means. The SSTO claimed that "the ULA is not a 'kosher' petitioner because it did not reach a proper decision among its component bodies to request back-to-work orders against the strike. Moreover, as well as can be determined, the ULA actually reached the opposite decision - namely, not to request back-to-work orders from the honorable court." The SSTO said many of the senior officials in the ULA had no knowledge of any such decision being reached. The teachers also protested that the sudden involvement of the ULA - Eldar's short stint as mediator notwithstanding - did not help matters at all. Ehud Zion Waldoks contributed to this report.