The four European Union members of the UN Security Council on Tuesday strongly criticized Israel's decision to speed up construction of settlements, which they termed a "wholly negative" development."

The ambassadors from Britain, France, Germany and Portugal issued a joint statement branding the Israeli settlements in Palestinian occupied territories and East Jerusalem as illegal under international law.

"We call on the Israeli government to reverse these steps," the statement said. "The viability of the Palestinian state that we want to see and the two-state solution that is essential for Israel's long-term security are threatened by the systematic and deliberate expansion of settlements."

The statement, issued following the 15-country Security Council's closed-door discussion on the situation in the Middle East, condemned Israeli settlers' violence against the Palestinians, including the burning of the Nebi Akasha mosque in West Jerusalem and the Burqa mosque in the West Bank.

It called on Israeli leaders to boldly demonstrate political will and leadership to break the impasse in negotiations with the Palestinians. It called on both Israelis and Palestinians to agree on a package of proposals to settle security and border issues in order to advance negotiations toward ending the conflict.

The four countries reiterated support for the creation of a "sovereign, independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian state living in peace and security side by side with Israel."

Israel's UN ambassador Ron Prosor responded by saying on Tuesday that "while innocent citizens are being slaughtered in Syria, terrorist elements are operating freely in Gaza, UN forces are attacked in Lebanon and Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon – the Security Council is silent and paralyzed." He added that "the main obstacle to peace was and remains the Palestinians' demand to the right of return, and not recognizing Israel as a Jewish state."

The fight against blood diamonds

In his speech at the Security Council, Prosor also raised the issue of the global trade in blood diamonds, and called on the international community to take more steps to eradicate it.

"The fight against blood diamonds is another one of Israel's fronts at the UN," he said," that expresses our commitment to preventing funds coming from blood diamond trade from funding armed conflicts and human rights violations. Israel was the first country in the world to issue a 'freedom diamond' certificate - a 'conflict –free' diamond."