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Saban buys control of Israel's Partner Communications

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S.-Israeli media magnate Haim Saban agreed to buy a controlling stake in Israel's second largest telecoms operator, Partner Communications , to expand into the market for bundled phone, internet and television services.

Saban Capital will pay Israeli holding company Scailex Corp 250 million shekels ($65 million) in cash, and take on a $300 million loan that Scailex owes to Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa <0013.HK>, Scailex said in a statement to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

Israel's mobile phone industry was turned upside down this year with the entry of six new operators, sparking a price war and leading to many customers switching companies.

Last month Bezeq Israel Telecom , the country's largest telecoms group, said it will give rivals access to its broadband infrastructure in return for license concessions from regulators. This will enable Partner to provide a bundled service supporting internet, voice, media and TV.

Scailex began talks with Saban last month about a possible sale of Partner, which operates under the Orange brand.

Saban is familiar with the Israeli communications market, having been part of the group that controlled Bezeq from 2005 to 2009.

This familiarity brings with it an advantage at a strategic and at a regulatory level, Ilanit Sherf, an analyst at Israeli brokerage Psagot, said.

"Saban comes from the content side, another advantage to Partner on the eve of its entry into the multi-channel television market and its transformation from a cellular company into a communications company expected to supply several services," she said.

Harel Finance analyst Rami Rozen said the deal was positive for Partner's shareholders, as the company will benefit from a strong and well-connected owner.

Scailex - which held 44.5 percent of Partner - will keep 13.8 percent, while Saban will have 30.7 percent. Suny , Scailex's parent company, will keep a 1.4 percent stake.

Partner's shares closed up 3.3 percent to 25.47 shekels in Tel Aviv.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Tova Cohen; Editing by Pravin Char and Louise Heavens)

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