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Israel's Netanyahu declares victory in primary battle for party leadership

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE declared victory in the primary contest for leadership of the Likud party ahead of the nation general election slated for March, the third in less than a year, according to The Associated Press.

“Thanks to the members of Likud for the trust, support and love,” Netanyahu said following the election results, which indicate a landslide for the prime minister, who received between 70 percent and 80 percent against challenger Gideon Sa’ar, a member of the Knesset. “God willing, I will lead Likud to a big victory in the coming elections.”

The primary challenge marked the first since Netanyahu became chairman of the party in 2005, and came after he was indicted in November on charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud. Netanyahu has denied all wrongdoing.

After the most recent election in September, former Israeli military chief Benny Gantz was unable to form a government or come to an agreement with Netanyahu on a unity government.

Sa’ar had presented himself as more appealing to former Likud members who had joined Gantz’s Blue and White party specifically as a rebuke of Netanyahu. “If I win today, we will also win on March 2,” he said earlier Thursday, according to the AP.