Netanyahu set to edge victory in tied election

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With almost all votes in Israel's general election counted, here is the preliminary distribution of seats in Israel's 120-seat parliament, according to Israeli media calculations.

Both men have claimed victory.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party is slated for a clear victory against Benny Gantz's rival Blue and White party after a bruising election.

In the centre-left bloc Labor, Meretz and the Arab parties of Hadash-Ta'al and Balad-Ra'am obtained 20 seats.

"The skies may look overcast. but they can not hide the sun of hope that we have brought to the Israeli people and society", Gantz, 59, wrote in an open letter.

However, the biggest mistake for Gantz is that he chose to have a rotation agreement [as prime minister] with Blue and White cofounder Yair Lapid, former finance minister and TV personality.

Another big victor in this election is Israeli democracy itself.

But the right result and the near-success of newcomer Mr Gantz showed the country that there is a viable alternative to Mr Netanyahu's decade in power.

A spokesperson for the Central Elections Committee told The Times of Israel that all votes would be counted by Thursday afternoon.

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Following then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' departure in December, the president said additional peace negotiations were ongoing. Earlier, the Taliban claimed to have conducted an attack with a auto bomb, saying "multiple invaders" had been killed.

Israel's attorney general has recommended indicting him on bribery and breach of trust charges in three separate cases. "We can be proud of ourselves, and we will be", the former IDF Chief of Staff said confidently.

Israeli exit polls are often imprecise and final results are expected early Wednesday. If it's even closer, we won't know for several days. The message was equally simple: Blue and White had been created to reclaim the state of Israel from Prime Minister Netanyahu.

- Shas, which represents ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Jews, was part of Netanyahu's outgoing coalition and has already announced its support for the premier to form a new one.

Most of the votes have been counted and the two main parties - Likud and Blue and White - are virtually tied for seats in the parliament. Netanyahu still appears to have the best chance of forming a coalition, though, with a smattering of small nationalist parties backing him.

In a rare turn during the race towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr Netanyahu further alarmed Palestinians by promising to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank if re-elected. But the same polls suggested that Netanyahu's route to building a successful coalition would be more straightforward, due to the large number of other right-wing parties projected to win seats.

Some have speculated that a unity government between Netanyahu and Gantz would help the country heal from a bitter election, and respond to threats from Iran and Hamas. Netanyahu has called the Israeli probes a "witch hunt", echoing his good friend, U.S. President Donald Trump, who used the same words to describe the investigation of his 2016 election campaign. Gantz, a career soldier who retired as chief of staff in 2015, entered politics previous year for the first time, joining forces with two other former army chiefs.

Although the president acts largely in a ceremonial capacity, he is charged with choosing a candidate for prime minister after hearing recommendations from the heads of all factions, according to the Associated Press.

Commenting on the election, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: "Israelis have voted to preserve the status quo. They wanted a different way and we outlined it".

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