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Minister: Attacks on U.S. throw Israel's Bezeq privatization into doubt

Reuven Rivlin had hoped to find a U.S. buyer for the Israeli phone company, after failing to drum up interest in Europe

The privatization of state-run phone company Bezeq Israel Telecommunications will be put on hold following the attacks on the United States yesterday, a spokeswoman for Communications Minister Reuven Rivlin said on Wednesday.

Just hours before the attacks on the U.S., Communications Minister Reuven Rivlin said that a ministerial privatization committee would on Thursday approve publication of the tender for the government's 50.01% stake for the end of the month.

"Everything is back up in the air following the attacks and we can't say with any certainty what will happen now," said Anat Friedman, Rivlin's spokeswoman. "I'm not even certain the ministerial committee will consider the Bezeq tender on Thursday."

The ministry had planned to concentrate efforts to find a buyer on the U.S. market with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon due to raise the issue during a visit later this month, Friedman added.

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A spokesman for Sharon's office said no decision had yet been made on whether the U.S. visit would still take place.

The tender publication had been delayed from last month after government adviser on the issue Merrill Lynch reported there were no serious potential bidders among international telecoms companies.

The Bezeq tender publication has been delayed due to the global telecommunications crisis and ongoing Israeli-Palestinian violence that have deterred foreign investors.

Bezeq has a monopoly on fixed lines in the domestic market.

In addition to the government's stake, 26% of Bezeq's shares are traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and Israeli businessman Gad Zeevi owns 19%.