Israel has lashed out at European members of the UN Security Council claiming that rather than condemning the Israeli settlements that they should be acting to stop the killing of civilians in Syria.

Britain, France, Germany and Portugal led condemnation by Security Council members on Tuesday of Israel's increased settlements in the occupied territories and growing attacks by extremist settlers on Palestinians.

The four European countries said Israel's announcements of accelerated settlement building send a "devastating" message, and urged the Jewish state to reverse the plans.

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni said that the government was taking a dangerously confrontational attitude and eroding diplomatic support for the Jewish state.

The Europeans welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's vow to clamp down on settler violence and called "on the Israeli government to fulfill its commitment to bring the perpetrators to justice

Ultra-nationalist Jews fighting government plans to dismantle wildcat settlement outposts have undertaken a campaign of vandalism in recent weeks, most of which has targeted Palestinian property, although they have also struck at the army and Israeli peace activists.

Israel blames Palestinians for impasse

Karean Peretz, spokeswoman for Israeli's UN mission, reacted by saying "the main obstacle to peace has been, and remains, the Palestinians' claim to the so-called right of return and its refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state."

Neither US Ambassador Susan Rice nor any of her deputies appeared at the Security Council microphone to speak to reporters after the meeting.

Mr Churkin said the series of addresses to the media yesterday on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a "completely new development."

Palestinian observer Riyad Mansour told reporters that "one powerful member of the Security Council" - the US - was preventing it from dealing with the settlements issue and other problems related to the Middle East peace process.

In September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submitted an application for full membership in the United Nations, which the Security Council would have to approve in order for it to go to the General Assembly for a vote.

Mr Churkin said the council was prepared to act on the Palestinian application as soon as a draft resolution is submitted that could be voted on.