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Israeli telecom firm Partner bids to buy rival Xfone

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FILE PHOTO: Screens displaying the logo of Partner, an Israeli communication firm, are seen at the headquarters in Rosh Ha'ayin near Tel Aviv, Israel
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israeli telecoms group Partner Communications Company Ltd said on Thursday it had offered to buy the business operations of smaller rival Marathon 018 Xfone for 187 million shekels ($58.1 million).

Partner's bid to buy Xfone comes after Golan Telecom -- a unit of Cellcom, Israel's largest mobile provider -- offered to buy Xfone. Cellcom said in a regulatory filing that Xfone's debt stood at about 60 million shekels.

Israeli media reported two other bids for Xfone.

Partner, Israel's second-largest mobile operator, said its offer would expire on Sept. 9 and said it was conditional on receiving various regulatory approvals.

Cellcom bought Golan Telecom last year, kicking off some consolidation in the sector. Market reforms in 2012 led to the creation of new, low-cost rivals, driving down prices that have left incumbents in particular struggling to stay profitable.

Israel's telecoms regulator had previously resisted mergers to avoid pushing prices back up. But its approval of Cellcom's purchase of Golan signalled it also wants to avoid company failures.

As part of its bid, Partner said it would offer at least 70% of Xfone's employees continued employment for at least one year, beginning at the date of the purchase.

($1 = 3.2205 shekels)

(Reporting by Steven Scheer; Additional reporting by Ann Maria Shibu in Bengaluru; Editing by Edmund Blair)

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