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The number of Jews living in West Bank settlements rose by some 15,000, or about 6 percent, last year, according to data from the Population Administration.

Altogether, 268,400 people lived in the settlements at the end of 2006, compared to 253,700 at the end of 2005. Most of the increase occurred in the two large Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) settlements of Modi'in Ilit and Beitar Ilit, which grew by about 4,000 and 2,300 people, respectively.

This growth turned Modi'in Ilit into the largest settlement in the territories, with some 34,500 residents. Previously, this title was held by Ma'aleh Adumim, but having grown by only some 1,700 people last year, that city currently numbers only about 33,300 residents.

In another two to three years, Ma'aleh Adumim may well be overtaken by Beitar Ilit as well. That city currently has 29,400 residents and is expected to pass the 30,000 mark this year.

Altogether, some 72,000 Haredim live in the West Bank, and the number has been growing steadily, due to both high birth rates and immigration.

In non-Haredi settlements, in contrast, the population increase last year was lower than the number of births, indicating that emigration exceeded immigration.