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Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Communications Minister Reuven Rivlin are determined to privatize phone company Bezeq even though no buyers are showing up, said a source in the communications sector.

Rivlin plans to publish a tender for the controlling stake in Bezeq without further delay, despite the absence of potential buyers.

Investment house Merrill Lynch has advised the Israeli government that it cannot find any strategic investors who might buy Bezeq. The report is to be officially presented to the ministerial privatization committee this Thursday.

Meanwhile, the industry source dismissed efforts to pass a legislative amendment that would release Bezeq from state regulation.

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"The privatization process must continue," Government Companies Authority manager Yaron Jacobs told today. "All that remains is to determine how and when. We are considering selling the 36% controlling stake to start with, and the rest as an option at a later stage."

Beforehand the authority had wanted to sell a 40% stake in one chunk, plus an option of 10.01% of Bezeq's equity.

Yaron explained that the change in format is meant to encourage Israeli buyers. Although the global telecoms crisis and intifada are external and uncontrollable factors, the authority can move to make the deal more attractive.

Even so, buying the controlling interest in Bezeq would cost so much, say analysts, that even Israel's biggest concerns would have to team up to bid.