UN chief Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday that he was "deeply troubled" by Israel's decision to grant legal status
to three settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank, describing the activity as illegal under international law.
The three outposts - Bruchin, Sansana and Rachalim - were built on land Israel declared "state-owned" in the West Bank, an area it captured in the Six Day War
and which Palestinians want as part of a future state.
"The Secretary-General is deeply troubled by the decision of the Government of Israel to formally approve three outposts in the West Bank," Ban's office said in a statement.
"The Secretary-General reiterates that all settlement activity is illegal under international law. It runs contrary to Israel's obligations under the Road Map and repeated Quartet calls for the parties to refrain from provocations," it said.
Israel's main ally, the United States, said it was also worried by the decision. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington was seeking clarification from the Israeli government, and repeated US opposition to settlement activity.
"We are obviously concerned by the reports that we have seen. We have raised this with the Israeli government," Nuland said. "We don't think this is helpful to the process. We don't accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity".
Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also criticized the Israeli move, saying Berlin had "pushed in talks with the Israeli side over the past days for this not to happen."
"I'm very worried about the plan to legalize Israeli settlements in the West Bank," said Westerwelle.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the Israeli decision, saying "Netanyahu has pushed things to a dead end yet again."
Earlier on Tuesday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser said he "condemns Israeli settlement activities as well as its unilateral measures."
Palestinians are awaiting a formal response from Netanyahu to a letter they sent last week in which Abbas repeated his call for an end to all settlement activity. Peace talks have been frozen since 2010 over the issue.
Israeli officials played down the decision taken by a ministerial committee late on Monday and rejected accusations that the government had effectively created the first new Jewish settlements for more than 20 years.