For the first time in a decade there is a new accurate census of Palestinians living in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. VOA's Jim Teeple has details from our Jerusalem Bureau.

The new census says the Palestinian population surveyed has grown by about 30 percent in the past 10 years, up from 2.89 million people to 3.76 million.

The census was compiled by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. The bureau's director, Luay Shabaneh, says his statisticians were somewhat surprised because they expected to find more Palestinians than they did.

"According to the population projections that we did 10 years ago, we were expecting 4 million Palestinians by the end of 2007. While on the ground we were able to count about 3.8 million, about 250,000 less than was expected," he said. "This assumes that population growth is still high, but not as high as what we were expecting."

Shabaneh says another surprising finding is that Israel's 700-kilometer long separation barrier, dividing Israel from Palestinian areas, has not had much of an effect on Palestinian demographics.

But he says the Palestinian Authority needs to move quickly to help Palestinians caught on the wrong side of the barrier, before they are forced to move.

"My explanation for that is that the wall is not affecting them yet severely to move," said Shabaneh. "I think the Palestinian Authority should invest to empower people there otherwise I think we will face something like the old city of Hebron, were people have almost evacuated the city."

Six-thousand census takers compiled the results, and unlike 10 years ago Palestinian census takers were allowed to survey residents of East Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed.

Again there were more surprises, with census takers only counting 208,000 Palestinian residents - a number far below what was expected - and a number that is being challenged by Palestinian politicians. But Luay Shabaneh says his census takers were scrupulous to only count those they found.

"For this year we were able to get into East Jerusalem and count door-to-door. So it is the first time where we have actually what we call real data," he said. "What we counted in this census are what we call usual residents, regardless of right of having residence in Jerusalem. What we counted were the people we found during the counting period in Jerusalem."

A census taken in Israel last year counted nearly 5.1 million Jews, 1.4 million Arab Israelis and 310,000 people described as "others" living in Israel.

Demographics are at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and are used by both sides to further their claims in the ongoing conflict.