The Communications Ministry is smiling upon a plan to abolish the structural distinction between the long-distance carrier Bezeq International and its parent company, the state-run Bezeq phone company, Ma'ariv reports.

Under the plan, Bezeq International will cease to function as an independent company as of early 2003.

The impetus for the merger is the opening of the long-distance market to competition, the anticipated merger of long-distance carriers Golden Lines and Barak, and the expected merger of Israel's three cable TV companies. The merged cable entity is expected to provide advanced communications services.

Bezeq supports merging its fully-owned subsidiary into itself, given the ministry intention of opening the market to competition. The merger would save Bezeq tremendous sums, it explains.

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In a meeting with Bezeq labor representatives, Communications Minister Reuven Rivlin clarified that the merger with Bezeq Iinternational is not a done deal. A final decision will be contingent on the development of the long-distance calls market.