BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's energy minister says Beirut has chosen 46 international and regional companies to bid for off-shore gas exploration.

Gibran Bassil says 12 companies will bid as operators, while 34 companies prequalified as non-operators.

He told reporters Thursday the licensing round begins on May 2.

Among the companies that will bid as operators are Chevron and Exxon Mobil Corp. from the United States, Repsol of Spain and France's Total.

Lebanon is otherwise resource poor. Gas discoveries could help pay off Lebanon's debts, one of the highest rates in the world.

Recent Israeli discoveries of oil and gas have raised tensions between Lebanon and neighboring Israel, which technically are in a state of war.

Both countries claim a small exploration area of 850 square kilometers (330 square miles) in the Mediterranean.