UNITED NATIONS : The so-called Middle East Quartet - Russia, US, European Union and UN - has censured Israel for its settlement expansion policy, saying it undermines efforts to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The quartet emphasized its strong opposition to ongoing settlement activity, which is an obstacle to peace," said the group in a statement after meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA on Friday. The quartet also "expressed its grave concern that the acceleration of settlement construction and expansion ... (is) steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution." In its July report, the group called on the Israeli government to put an end to its settlement expansion activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The last round of talks between Israelis and Palestinians collapsed in 2014. Israel's illegal settlement activities and its refusal to release senior Palestinian prisoners were among major reasons behind the failure of the negotiations.

Much of the international community regards the Israeli settlements as illegal because the territories were captured by Israel in a war in 1967 and are hence subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbid construction on occupied lands.

The presence and continued expansion of the settlements has created a major obstacle for the efforts to establish peace in the Middle East. Palestinians want the occupied West Bank as part of their future independent state, with East Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital.

More than half a million Israelis live in over 230 illegal settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East al-Quds.