There are 2.9 million Palestinians living in the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, according to a Palestinian census whose results were released Thursday.

Palestinian officials said efforts to gather information for the first such census since self-rule came into effect in parts of the West Bank and Gaza in 1994 were hindered by Israeli authorities, who blocked canvassing in East Jerusalem."The most surprising finding of the census is the population total because we had every indication suggesting that we will be getting a maximum of 2.7 million," census head Hassan Abu Libdah told a news conference in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

"Official Palestinian statistics have been born, and Palestine is now liberated informationally. An independent Palestinian state has been established, at least in the field of statistics," he added.

Preliminary census results showed 210,209 Palestinians in East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, about 30,000 more than previously estimated, Abu Libdah said.

"Israel prevented us from carrying out our national right to conduct a census in some parts of Jerusalem," he charged, referring to a broad ban imposed on Palestinian political activity in Jerusalem in December to block the survey.

The figure for East Jerusalem was concluded from "previous censuses and our own assumptions about the likely course of growth of the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem," said a census publication.

Abu Libdah did not give a breakdown for the West Bank and Gaza Strip but said the Strip's population was lower. He said population figures should not be used to determine the distribution of Palestinian wealth and resources.

"It would be a pity and a very serious mistake on our part if we distribute resources based on the population totals. Gaza needs utmost attention from both public and private sectors because the problems there are more than population problems.

"There are problems of terrible overcrowding, an absolute lack of resources, skyrocketing unemployment rates and an almost dead investment medium," he added.