The Palestinian Authority has minimized the number of sick Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza that it sends for treatment in Israeli medical centers at its expense, according to the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem and the Civil Administration, which facilitates such transfers. Dr. Michael Weintraub, head of pediatric hematology, oncology and bone marrow transplants at Hadassah University Medical Center at Jerusalem's Ein Kerem, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that in the long term, "there is no doubt that it is better for medical services to be provided by Palestinian hospitals." He added, however, that "it will take up to a decade to raise the level of Palestinian hospitals so they treat such patients by themselves, and it would take the same amount of time in any modern country. Currently, the PA has no such centers that can cope with such patients alone," the Hadassah physician said. Weintraub maintained that on February 1, there was decision by the PA in Ramallah to stop giving money for the treatment of Palestinians in Israeli hospitals. "We have 57 such children with cancer, blood diseases and those needing bone marrow transplants. The PA knows who they are. Hadassah management never received any warning in advance. The families come to us desperately and beg us to treat them free or ask to pay small amounts out of their own pockets. "We have given such life-and-death treatments free or solicited contributions in Israel during the last few days, as they would die within days without receiving care. But these are very expensive therapies, and we can't continue to offer them free." Weintraub stated that if the PA had contacted Hadassah three months ago and asked for medical documents regarding what treatment was given and what needed to be done in West Bank facilities, he would have provided them. "But the PA knows that it can't stop cancer treatment suddenly, as there is the risk of immediate relapse and death." Palestinian patients and the PA are charged Israeli treatment rates - not the higher foreign medical tourist rates, said Weintraub. "The rate for bone marrow transplantation is even lower than the Israeli rate. West Bank hospitals tell us they are not able to treat such conditions, so I don't know what will happen to the children." But PA health minister Dr. Fathi Abu Moghli told the Post on Wednesday that the "reduction" in referrals of Palestinian patients to Israel is part of a "policy reassessment that began a year ago in an attempt to build up medical skills inside the West Bank and Gaza. "If there are no suitable medical treatments in Gaza and the West Bank, east Jerusalem, Jordan or Egypt, we will continue to send sick Palestinians to Israeli hospitals," he said. Abu Moghli was contacted by the Post to comment on an article published Tuesday in The New York Times to the effect that scores of Palestinians being treated in Israeli hospitals are being sent home because the PA has stopped paying for their treatment "partly in anger over the war in Gaza." In his phone interview with the Post, Abu Moghli confirmed that Palestinians wounded in the war were indeed not being sent to Israeli hospitals, but he added that those with diseases who need care and consultation not otherwise available in the region would continue to be referred here. He objected to the New York Times headline that said "Palestinians stop paying Israeli hospitals for Gaza and West Bank patients," noting that the PA "never paid Israeli hospitals directly; they receive payment from the Israeli government that deducts the debts from taxes that Israeli authorities collects for the PA." Abu Moghli insisted that "we in the PA will continue our three-year plan to upgrade our own medical services. It was not a sudden decision. The only sudden decision I took was to refuse to send Gazans wounded due to Israeli aggression to go to Israeli hospitals. "As for the sick, we have a high-level medical professional committee to decide who needs to go to Israeli hospitals for care we cannot provide." Weintraub, who gets young patients mostly from the West Bank (Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer gets patients mostly from Gaza) said the PA "has a right to set its own priorities. If it feels cancer treatment for children is too expensive and that it wants to spend its budget on vaccines, that is OK. We do not interfere. "But it is unrealistic to send children for a year of treatment in Jordan, for example. Families would have to move there and stop working. We accept the patients for humanitarian reasons," said the Hadassah cancer expert. Peter Lerner, the Civil Administration's coordinator of government activities in the territories, said that last year, a total of 28,000 Palestinians from the West Bank were treated in Israeli medical facilities and 90,000 went to east Jerusalem hospitals, but he could not say how many were paid for by the PA and how many paid privately. Lerner added that the reduction of Palestinian patients referred to Israel is "an internal Palestinian decision. In all of our history, medical aid has been offered on an ongoing basis despite Israeli military operations. We are willing to continue to help them." Dr. Ron Pundak, director-general of the Peres Center for Peace, told the Post that the PA has sent ill Palestinians mostly to Hadassah, Sheba and the Schneider Children's Medical Center in Petah Tikva. The Peres center has an independent project that refers sick 1,000 Palestinian children to Israeli hospitals for surgery and consultations each year. If the diagnosis is cancer, it pays half the cost, while the PA has covered the rest. The Peres center also annually subsidizes the training of some 40 Palestinian physicians in Israeli hospitals so they can learn Israel's superior techniques and take them back to Palestinian hospitals, Pundak said. "It would be a tragedy if the PA does not continue to send to Israel those ill patients who cannot get treatment there," Pundak said.