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Last Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Number of W Bank settlers rises
Maale Adumim, Jewish settlement in the West Bank
Much of the increase was due to settlers moving to Maale Adumim
The number of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank has grown by more than 9,000 so far in 2005, an Israeli interior ministry official has said.

This is despite the recent evacuation of four West Bank settlements.

The spokesman, Gilad Heiman, said that the increase was due mainly to an influx of ultra-Orthodox Jews into the larger West Bank settlements.

Mr Heiman said more than 246,000 settlers now lived on what he called occupied land.

This figure does not count the 200,000 Israeli Jews who live in East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed.

The international community does not recognise this annexation, considering East Jerusalem occupied territory and part of the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has promised to continue the programme of building new Jewish settlements in the West Bank following the evacuation of settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Gaza 'ruse'

Under the disengagement plan, Israel evicted approximately 9,000 settlers from all of the Gaza Strip and the four small settlements in the northern West Bank, territories occupied since 1967 by Israel.

Palestinian officials have for some time expressed the fear that disengagement is a ruse to cement Israeli control over much of the West Bank.

Israeli settlements around Jerusalem

A Palestinian official expressed anger at the settler figures.

"Israel's insistence on expanding settlements represents a declaration of war against the Palestinians because it aims to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state by reinforcing and prolonging occupation," Palestinian minister Ghassan Khatib said.

Mr Khatib said Gaza disengagement would be meaningless "unless the international community compels Israel to match it with a stop to settlement expansion in the West Bank".

Mr Heiman said most of the newcomers to the West Bank were ultra-Orthodox Jews seeking affordable housing, while many others had moved to Maale Adumim, the largest West Bank settlement.

Despite the rising numbers, the majority of Israelis favour removing more West Bank settlements, according to a poll published in the country's biggest newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth.

A poll of 501 Israelis showed 54% backed further pullouts while 42% were opposed and 4% did not respond.

Gaza protester dies

In a separate development, an Israeli woman died Friday from burns she received when she set herself on fire last week to protest the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Yelena Bosinova, 54, a resident of the Kedumim settlement in the West Bank, set fire to herself on 17 August at a roadblock near the southern Israeli town of Netivot.

She was the only Israeli who died during the evacuation of the 21 Gaza settlements, which was characterised by emotional but largely non-violent resistance.

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