JERUSALEM, July 27 (Xinhua) -- The number of Jewish settlers in the West
Bank has exceeded 300,000, reported Israeli daily Ha'aretz, quoting statistics
gathered by a military body.
Figures from the Israel Defense Forces Civil Administration, a unit
responsible for coordinating civil issues between Israel and the Palestinians,
show that "as of June 30, the settlements had 304,569 residents, a 2.3 percent
increase since January," said the report.
These statistics do not include all the residents of unauthorized
settlement outposts, and "generally, growth rates are higher in the second half
of the year, because many families move over the summer," noted the report.
Settlements built on the Palestinian territories are one of the core issues
impeding the unwieldy peace process between the two neighbors. The international
community, including the United States, Israel's most important ally, has been
urging Israel to totally freeze its settlement constructions, yet the Jewish
state has so far refused to yield to that demand.
Amid an uncomfortable strain on Israeli-U.S. ties over the settlement
issue, a group of high-ranking U.S. officials, including special envoy George
Mitchell and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, is visiting the region this
week, in a bid to placate Israel and advance the Middle East peace process.