The UN human rights office said on Tuesday that Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory remain in breach of international law, rejecting the US administration's position that it now backed them.
Washington on Monday abandoned its four-decade-old position that the settlementments, built on land Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War, were inconsistent with international law.
"We continue to follow the long-standing position of the UN that Israeli settlements are in breach of international law," UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing.
"A change in the policy position of one state does not modify existing international law nor its interpretation by the International Court of Justice and the Security Council," he said.
The International Court of Justice, in an advisory opinion issued in 2004, said that Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, were established in breach of international law, Reuters reported.
The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 - which both the US and Israel have ratified - lays down that an occupying power shall not transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, he said.
Non-governmental activist groups also rejected the US administration's new stance, announced by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
"This changes nothing. President Trump can't wipe away decades of established international law that settlements are a war crime," Andrea Prasow, acting Washington director at Human
Rights Watch, said in a statement.
For his part, Philippe Nassif of Amnesty International said the construction and maintenance of the settlements breached international law and amounted to war crimes.
"Today, the United States government announced to the rest of the world that it believes the US and Israel are above the law: that Israel can continue to violate international law and Palestinians’ human rights and the US will firmly support it in doing so," he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the US decision to effectively back Israel's right to build Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank undermined the legal basis for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Russia's Foreign Ministry condemned the change of policy in a statement on Tuesday, warning the move would escalate tensions in the region, according to Reuters.
Moscow's stance is that such settlements on Palestinian territory are illegal under international law, it said.