JERUSALEM: The number of Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank grew by 4.7% in 2012, according to figures obtained by AFP Wednesday from a settler organisation.
The settler population stood at 360,000 at beginning of January 2013 compared to 343,000 in January 2012, according to the Yesha Council, the largest organisation of West Bank settlers.
It said that since Israel pulled its settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, population growth in the West Bank settlements averaged five percent annually, about three times that of the overall Israeli population.
The council attributed the growth spurt to the fact that more people are moving to existing settlements and to a high birth rate among religious settlers.
"We are pleased with these figures and expect the Israeli government to understand the need to develop settlements throughout Judaea and Samaria (the Biblical name for the West Bank)," council chairman Avi Roeh told AFP.
The two largest settlements are Modiin Ilit, a community of ultra-Orthodox Jews west of the West Bank city of Ramallah, with 58,000 inhabitants, and Beitar Ilit, an ultra-Orthodox settlement west of Bethlehem, with 44,000.
Maale Adumim, east of Jerusalem, is in third position with 39,000 inhabitants.
These figures do not include some 200,000 Israelis in a dozen settlement neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem, annexed by Israel after its conquest in the 1967 Six Day war.
Settlers represent 4.4 percent of the total population of Israel, which stands at 7.9 million people.