Allyn Fisher-Ilan
December 6, 2010 - 1:00am

JERUSALEM, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressed condolences in a rare telephone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday over the deadly fires raging in northern Israel, Israeli officials said.

The two leaders were not believed to have spoken since they last met in September when U.S.-backed peace talks stalled in a spat over Jewish settlement construction.

A statement from Netanyahu's office said Abbas "expressed his condolences to the people of Israel on those who died in the fire and said he would be happy to provide any necessary help."

In the conversation described as "warm and friendly," Netanyahu replied that "neighbours should always help each other."

Netanyahu also suggested he would put a fleet of firefighter planes he has plans to establish "at the disposal of" Israel's Arab neighbours, the statement said.

The fire in which 42 Israelis were killed, ravaging forests outside the port of Haifa for three days now, caught Israel without enough firefighting equipment, forcing Netanyahu to seek foreign help from about a dozen countries.

Israeli police suspect the fire was set by negligence after the lighting of a campfire on grounds near the drought-stricken woodland.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have remained stalled over the settlements dispute, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday the United States was making intensive efforts to relaunch the talks and would announce further steps next week.


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