BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon has signed a deal with an international consortium to start exploratory offshore drilling for oil and gas in what the country hopes will help boost its struggling economy.

The signing ceremony was held Friday in Beirut and was attended by President Michel Aoun and officials from the three oil companies, Italy's Eni, France's Total and Russia's Novatek.

The agreement came two months after Lebanon's government approved the licenses for the international consortium to move forward with offshore oil and gas development.

The three companies have bid for two of Lebanon's 10 offshore blocks, to determine whether oil and gas exist.

Lebanon's energy and water minister said the country will start exploratory offshore drilling for oil and gas next year. One of the blocks is disputed in part with Israel.

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