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Israel PM proposes regional firefighting force

Dec. 7, 2010 5:03 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 8, 2010 1:35 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday proposed the creation of a regional firefighting team in phone calls with several heads of state, his office said.

The move came as Israel thanked hundreds of foreign firefighters and pilots for their role in quelling Israel's worst-ever blaze, which killed 42 people and destroyed thousands of acres of forest.

Netanyahu spoke with the leaders of Greece, Russia, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority to suggest setting up a regional firefighting unit to handle similar disasters in the future, his office said.

The fire was the worst in Israel's 62-year history, and forced Israel to reach out to foreign nations. Assistance came quickly, with countries sending aircraft, personnel and fire-fighting equipment.

"The international assistance received by Israel last week should serve as a model for further cooperation needed in our area," Netanyahu's office quoted him as saying.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou offered to host a meeting in Athens to discuss the initiative, the statement said.

Earlier, Israeli President Shimon Peres hosted members of teams from 20 nations at his residence in Jerusalem to thank them for their efforts.

"Good people, in the name of the state of Israel, in the name of all our people ... we want to thank each and every one of you for coming here with such heroism and such speed to save lives in Israel," said Peres.

Netanyahu also praised the 300 international firefighters, pilots and experts, telling them they had saved many lives.

"You reacted with speed to our plea. You stood shoulder-to-shoulder with us fighting the worst fire in the history of the state of Israel. Due to your help, lives, hundreds of homes, and many acres of forest were saved," he said.

The fire in the Carmel mountains near the northern city of Haifa began on Thursday and raged for three days before it was brought under control as the result of a massive international firefighting effort.

An initial investigation appears to show the blaze was started by accident by several teenagers who were having a picnic in the area.
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