TEL AVIV // Hundreds of Palestinian patients, many of them children, are no longer receiving crucial medical treatments at Israeli hospitals for cancer and other diseases after the Palestinian Authority stopped paying for their care following Israel's onslaught in the Gaza Strip. A few days after Israel's attacks in Gaza started at the end of December, the Palestinian Authority's health ministry in Ramallah decided it would not pay for Gazans wounded from the assault to be treated at Israeli hospitals. Instead, it directed hundreds of the injured to obtain care in Egypt and other countries in the region. After the 22-day Israeli military operation, the decision was expanded to all other Palestinian patients in Gaza and the West Bank. "The timing was political," said Ran Yaron, a director at Physicians for Human Rights, an Israeli rights group. "They didn't want to continue paying Israel after what the country did in Gaza. They are using patients in their political struggles against Israel." In a joint statement issued this week, Mr Yaron's organisation and three other Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups demanded the Palestinian Authority renew its financial coverage for those patients - many of them critically ill - who still need to complete their treatments in Israel. The human rights groups also criticised Israel for hingeing access to health care for the Palestinians on financial coverage from the Palestinian Authority. They stressed that Israel, in its occupation of the West Bank and control of most of Gaza's borders and air space, holds much of the blame for the insufficient medical care in those territories and should therefore offer Palestinians access to its own health system. Israeli officials said yesterday that such a demand was not under consideration. Anan Masri, the Palestinian Authority's deputy health minister, claimed in an interview that the refusal to provide coverage for Palestinians in Israeli hospitals was a decision taken by the health minister and stemmed from economic rather than political motivations. According to Dr Masri, treatments in Israel, such as cardiac surgery, were at least 30 per cent costlier than in nearby countries, such as Jordan. Dr Masri said the Palestinian patients who could not receive proper care in the 12 governmental hospitals in the West Bank or the 11 public hospitals in Gaza were now being referred to private institutions in the West Bank or to Jordan. However, he added that he did not personally agree with the decision to cut off the treatments, which could last months or years for chronically ill patients, forcing them to make travel arrangements to Jordan. He said: "In my point of view, this decision should be reversed and there should be negotiation" with Israel over the price of the care. The Palestinian Authority has been in charge of medical care for all Palestinians since the 1993 Oslo Accords, which gave Palestinians a measure of self-rule. However, Israeli restrictions have left Palestinian hospitals highly dependent on the more advanced health system in Israel. Palestinian hospitals do not carry out radiation therapy, children's heart or brain surgeries, or transplants of bone marrow and organs including the liver, lungs or heart. Activists say Gaza hospitals are even more lacking than in the West Bank because Israel's crippling blockade on the area hinders doctors from obtaining training abroad and prevents such equipment as radiation therapy machines from entering the enclave. The Palestinian Authority's financial coverage for Israeli medical treatments ranged from three million shekels (Dh 2.6m) to 12million shekels per month in recent years. Some Israeli medical officials said the Palestinian decision endangered the life of numerous patients. "For many of them it's a death verdict," said Rafi Walden, deputy director of Israel's Tel Hashomer hospital and a board member of Physicians for Human Rights. He added: "Hundreds of patients, including children with leukaemia or those who need heart and brain surgery, are being affected." Firuz Gaarur is one such patient. The five-year-old girl from Gaza, who has a genetic disorder in which the immune system fails to develop and can be fatal, spent eight months at Tel Hashomer last year while having a bone marrow transplant. She was scheduled to return to the Israeli hospital in February to take blood tests and receive injections and medications but has so far been blocked from making the journey because of the Palestinian health minister's decision. "We were told there was no permission from Ramallah to bring her back to the hospital," said Yusef Abu Kamil, a family friend who has helped Firuz arrange for her treatments. He added that Firuz has already run out of half the medications she takes every day and is being kept by her parents in a closed room with the doors and windows shut to protect her from infections. He added: "She was there for eight months and now we are begging for two more days for her in the Israeli hospital. She could die without the treatment."