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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton Monday that he was willing to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to restart peace talks, his office said.

Netanyahu told Ashton in a telephone conversation that he was "happy to meet Mahmoud Abbas at any time," the statement from his office said.

Ashton Sunday announced plans to invite Israeli and Palestinian representatives to meet "in the coming days" to discuss resuming peace negotiations, frozen for the past year.

An Israeli government spokesman declined to comment when asked if Israel had received a formal invitation from Ashton.

Abbas has said Israel must halt all settlement building in the occupied West Bank before Palestinians will restart talks. Israel has made clear it is not ready to do that.

Last month, Abbas formally asked the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in a 1967 war.

Abbas's U.N. bid is opposed by Israel and the United States who say only a negotiated peace deal can end the Middle East conflict and create a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Spokesmen for Abbas were not immediately available for comment.

(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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