Lebanon will auction energy-development rights to five offshore areas and adopt production-sharing contracts to attract international investors as the country seeks to join a regional race to tap oil and gas wealth in the eastern Mediterranean, Gulf News reported.

According to the Energy Minister, Cesar Abi Khalil, the new bidders can apply from early February until the end of March, and the ministry will select license winners by mid-November, Bloomberg informed.

Lebanon’s cabinet approved two decrees early January allowing the Middle Eastern nation to move ahead with development of its energy assets, ending three years of delays.

In 2014, Former Energy Minister, Gebran Bassil, said seismic surveys showed the country could hold at least 96tcf of gas and 850m barrels of oil. Exxon Mobil and Eni are among companies qualified to bid to explore off the country’s coast.

However, the area auctioned is contested by Israel. The Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Emmanuel Nachshon, stated that the country is following Lebanon’s developments closely.

He said: “Israel has already made clear its position on its northern maritime delimitation. The Government of Israel is committed to ensuring that its rights are protected on maritime areas in which Israel asserts sovereign rights or jurisdiction.”