The overall number of settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip now stands at 236,000, Israel's interior ministry said on Tuesday. 

The numbers living in several isolated settlements has grown much more rapidly including at the controversial Netzarim settlement in southern Gaza that is now home to about 65 families and guarded by several hundred troops, after growing by 24% since Sharon's election. 

Under the terms of the US-backed road map peace plan, Israel is obliged to freeze settlement activity, but the Israeli government has continued to issue tenders for the building of more apartments in the West Bank and Gaza. 

Quit notices

Meanwhile, on Tuesday Israeli defence ministry officials began posting notices to quit on the doors of homes in Ginot Aryeh West Bank settlers' outpost, after orders for its dismantling were issued. 

"The evacuation orders have been posted on the door of the
houses in Ginot Aryeh," a spokeswoman for the settlers, Rachel Avital, told reporters.

"This neighbourhood is just 300 metres from the last houses in Ofra and 25 people live here," she added. Ginot Aryeh, which houses a handful of families from the nearby settlement of Ofra in the central West Bank, is one of four outposts due to be dismantled in the coming days, after orders were signed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz.

Emotional confrontation

A senior Israeli officer for the West Bank admitted on Tuesday the army could expect an emotional confrontation with the settlers over the dismantling orders, but said that they would be carried out. 

Avital said the settlers would vehemently oppose any evacuation, but would not resort to violence. 

"We will do everything we can to oppose the dismantlement but we will not lift a hand against the forces of order," she said.