The population growth rate of West Bank settlements is close to three times as high as that of the rest of the country, according to statistics released Tuesday by the Interior Ministry. While the population throughout Israel grew by 1.8 percent from 2005 to 2006, communities in Judea and Samaria saw a population hike of 5.2% according to the Interior Ministry numbers. In 2005 there were 253,748 people living in the West Bank compared to 267,163 in 2006. The information came as no surprise to the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip (Yesha) who have long contended that their communities are a popular place to live. "It shows that we are stronger than the government's opposition to us," said Council spokeswoman Emily Amrusi. She added that the true numbers were actually higher than those reflected in the Interior Ministry's records. The activist group Peace Now, which opposes Israel's presence in the territories, blamed the increase on the government's policies of not providing adequately for haredi families. It's spokesman Yariv Oppenheimer said numbers showing a high rate of growth in haredi cities such as Betar Illit and Modi'in Illite prove that it is a popular because it has space for large families and it is close to Jerusalem. The haredi city of Modi'in Illit, according to the Interior Ministry numbers, grew by 13.4%, from 30,425 in 2005 to 34,514 in 2006. Based on this growth spurt, it is now the largest city in the West Bank. Similarly the haredi city of Betar Illit, which is the third largest city in the West Bank, grew by 8.1% from 27,147 in 2005 to 29,355 in 2006. The mixed city of Ma'aleh Adumim, which had long been the largest city in the West Bank dropped to second place. Still it grew by 5.2% from 31,615 in 2005 to 33,259 in 2006. The mixed city of Ariel, which is now the fourth largest city in the West Bank, saw a small population decline of 2% from 17,723 in 2005 to 17,673 in 2006.