Netanyahu, Abbas Hold Rare Phone Chat Over Carmel Fire

The Palestinian President expressed condolences and offered help; Netanyahu committed to establishing a pan-Middle Eastern firefighting fleet.

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.

abbas netanyahu - AP - September 15 2010

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 "neighbors 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.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad called President Shimon Peres on Friday to offer the aid of Palestinian firefighting teams.

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-Palestinian direct peace talks were held at the start of the fall, but broke down over a dispute regarding the continued construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. U.S. 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.