World News: Netanyahu, Gantz Claim Victory In Israeli Closely-Fought Parliamentary Elections

Israelis head to polls as Prime Minister Netanyahu seeks fifth term

Despite a tie between the parties of the veteran right-wing leader and his main challenger, Benny Gantz, the right-wing and the ultra-Orthodox parties secured a majority bloc of 65 seats in the 120-seat parliament, according to figures released by Israel's Central Election Committee after counting some 97 percent of the votes.

Mr Netanyahu is Israel's incumbent prime minister and was seeking a fifth term in office in this year's general election.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says President Donald Trump has called to congratulate him on his election win from Air Force One.

Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler of the Israel Democracy Institute deemed the strategy saw "a one-to-one imitation" of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign: "This was about both spreading fear and sowing a victim-like mistrust in the democratic institutions". "He's been a great ally and he's a friend". Yisrael Beytenu under former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman won five seats, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu Party won four seats.

The close and often vitriolic contest was widely seen in Israel as a referendum on Mr Netanyahu's character and record in the face of corruption allegations.

During the campaign, the rival parties accused each other of corruption, fostering bigotry and being soft on security.

Since taking office, Mr Trump has also moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to the politically contested city of Jerusalem, closed the Palestinians' office in Washington, pulled the United States from UN bodies accused of anti-Israel bias and cut off funding for the UN agency that provides schooling and other services to Palestinian refugees.

"I already began talks with the leaders of the Right-wing parties, our natural partners", Mr Netanyahu told his cheering supporters in Tel Aviv.

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"He's a magician!", the crowd chanted.

The vote - following the general elections held across the country on Tuesday - appears to be split with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and the Blue and White Party lead by Benny Gantz receiving 35 seats each.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures after he speaks following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's parliamentary election at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel on April 10, 2019. Legal experts expect at least some charges to be filed. A hearing is expected in July and a final indictment could come as soon as six months later. They certainly can't obscure the sunshine of hope we gave to the people of Israel and Israeli society.

In an apparent attempt to capitalize on his high popularity in Israel, the president hosted Netanyahu at the White House a mere two weeks before Israeli voters headed to the ballot box. This was most evident in his late pledge to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

And with peace and security dominating the race, Netanyahu had a formidable record on which to run: isolation of the Palestinian Authority, containment of the Hamas threat in Gaza and growing alliances, once unthinkable, with Arab states.

Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has been working on a Mideast peace plan. The President can see the picture and should call on the victor to form the next government.

At this stage, Netanyahu's Likud lost Caesarea with 52% of the vote going to Blue and White. If he is re-appointed prime minister, he'll be the longest-serving prime minister in Israel's history. The double envelopes - which include soldiers, prisoners, hospital patients and Israeli diplomats overseas - amount to approximately 200,000 ballots.

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