Lebanon's energy and water minister on Friday announced the launch of a pre-qualification phase for companies interested in developing oil and gas reserves in the country's territorial waters.

Gebran Bassil said in a press conference that potential bidders have until March 28 to submit their applications and that authorities will produce a list of pre-qualified companies by April 18.

The bidding process will be opened on May 2 and pre-qualified companies will have six months to submit their bids, Bassil said, adding that the contracts are to be signed in February 2014 and the development phase will start in 2015.

Significant oil and natural gas reserves have been found in Lebanese territorial waters during preliminary exploration work.

In late January, the government formed a special committee to oversee the oil and gas reserves discovered in the Mediterranean Sea. Those resources are the subject of dispute with Israel, since the southernmost reserves are located along the countries' disputed maritime border.

Lebanon has sent a letter to the United Nations rejecting a maritime-boundary map presented by Israel.

The land and maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel are still to be delimited because the two countries are formally at war, although an internationally recognized terrestrial border between Lebanon and Israel - known as the blue line - was drawn up in 2000 by the United Nations.

The maritime boundary is based on bilateral accords between Cyprus and Lebanon and between Cyprus and Israel. EFE