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Netanyahu leading in Israeli election exit polls

Netanyahu leading in Israeli election exit polls
© Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE is polling ahead of opponents in preliminary results for the country's third election in under a year.

Updates from exit polls show Netanyahu's Likud party and its corresponding allies winning 59 of the parliament's 120 seats, putting him at just two votes short of a majority, according to The Associated Press.

His opponent, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party, has faced scrutiny from various figures within his own party, who described his campaign as lackluster in comparison to the incumbent Netanyahu.

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The Likud party appears fixed to secure 36 seats to Gantz's Blue and White's 32, with Netanyahu's camp holding an overall edge to Gantz's center-left bloc of 59 to 54.

Soviet-born Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman, a former defense minister, and his party are expected to win seven seats.

This would be the third consecutive Israeli election to not end with a clear winner, but Lieberman has said there will not be a fourth election. Lieberman did not say how such a result would be avoided or what he would do.

Netanyahu did not hesitate from declaring victory early Tuesday.

"This is a victory against all the odds because we stood against powerful forces," he said to a gathering of supporters. "They already eulogized us. Our opponents said the Netanyahu era is over."

Netanyahu said work would begin immediately for forming a new coalition. 

Netanyahu and Gantz, a former military chief, attempted to form coalitions after the election last September, but both failed. Likud is projected to be the largest party and will presumably have another chance to assemble a coalition after this election.