Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and his wife Revital vote in Rosh Haayin, Israel, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. Israelis began voting Tuesday in an unprecedented repeat election that will decide whether longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stays in power despite a looming indictment on corruption charges. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

The Latest: Netanyahu challenger: Too soon to call victory

September 17, 2019 - 7:50 pm

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Latest on the Israeli election (all times local):

2:45 a.m.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's chief challenger, Benny Gantz, says it is too early to declare a victory in national elections.

Exit polls in Tuesday's vote showed Gantz's Blue and White party with a slight lead over Netanyahu's Likud.

Neither party appears to have enough support to form a majority coalition in parliament with their traditional allies, raising the possibility they will have to form a broad unity government.

Addressing supporters in Tel Aviv, Gantz says he will wait for formal results before making any bold pronouncements. But he says he's already begun talking to potential allies. He made no mention of Likud.

"I am ready to speak to everyone," he said.

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12:30 a.m.

Israel's election commission says 69.4% of eligible voters cast ballots in unprecedented repeat elections, a slightly larger number than took part in April's vote.

The commission says 4,440,141 votes were cast by the time polls closed in Tuesday's elections, which were widely seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been in power for more than a decade and faces likely indictment on corruption charges.

Initial exit polls showed Netanyahu did not have enough support to form a right-wing majority coalition, potentially spelling the end of his political career.

Turnout in April's elections was 68.5%. Parliament voted to dissolve itself when Netanyahu was not able to form a majority coalition.

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Midnight

The kingmaker in Israel's election says there is only "one option" for the country: a unity government between him and the two largest parties.

Initial exit polls published after Tuesday's vote showed the centrist Blue and White Party slightly ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud. But neither appears able to form a majority coalition without the support of Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the midsize Yisrael Beitenu party.

In a speech to his supporters, Lieberman says the only choice is for the two large parties to join him in a broad, secular coalition that would not be subject to the demands of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.

Israeli polls are often imprecise. But if final results are similar, Lieberman's call would set the stage for complicated negotiations.

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11:30 p.m.

A senior Palestinian official says he hopes the next Israeli government "will focus on how to make peace."

Saeb Erakat spoke as initial exit polls from Tuesday's vote showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu falling short of a majority, potentially spelling the end of his decade in power.

In the closing days of his campaign, Netanyahu had vowed to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, which Israel seized in the 1967 war and which the Palestinians consider the heartland of their future state.

Erakat says Israel "cannot have peace or security without ending the occupation, without two states, the state of Palestine to live side by side with the state of Israel in peace and security on the 1967 lines."

The peace process broke down shortly after Netanyahu was elected in 2009, and no serious talks have been held since then.

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11:15 p.m.

Israel's president says he will press party leaders to quickly form a new government after initial exit polls showed no clear winner in parliamentary elections.

Reuven Rivlin's office said Tuesday that his nomination of a candidate to form the next government would be guided in part by the need to avoid a third election, after two votes in five months. It said he would meet with party leaders "after he receives a clear picture of the results, and as soon as possible."

Israel's largely ceremonial president assigns the task of forming a new government to the party leader most likely to assemble a majority coalition.

Exit polls showed former military chief Benny Gantz's Blue and White Party winning slightly more seats than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud. But it appeared that neither would be able to form a government without Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu, which has said it wants a national unity government.

Israel's parliament dissolved itself after April's elections when Netanyahu was unable to assemble a majority.

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11:00 p.m.

The leader of an alliance of Arab parties that initial exit polls indicate will be the third largest bloc in Israel's next parliament says it marks a "historic" moment for the minority, which has long complained of discrimination.

Initial exit polls released by Israel's main three TV stations indicate the Joint List won around a dozen seats in the 120-seat parliament in Tuesday's elections. The polls indicate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fall short of a parliamentary majority, potentially marking the end of his decade-long rule.

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List, told Israeli media that if the final results match the exit polls, Arab voters will have "prevented Netanyahu from forming a government." Netanyahu had repeatedly warned his supporters about large Arab turnout, using language that was widely seen as racist.

Arab citizens make up around 20% of Israel's population and largely identify with the Palestinians.

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10:15 p.m.

In an apparent setback for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, exit polls show the Israeli leader has fallen short of securing a parliamentary majority with his hard-line allies.

The results posted by Israel's three major TV stations indicate Netanyahu's political future could now be in doubt.

The three stations all showed challenger Benny Gantz's Blue and White party slightly ahead of Netanyahu's Likud party. However, neither party controls a majority in the 120-seat parliament without the support of Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the midsize Yisrael Beitenu party.

Netanyahu had hoped to secure a majority with his allies in hopes of winning immunity from an expected indictment on corruption charges.

The results raise the likelihood of a unity government between the three parties.

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9:50 p.m.

Turnout in Israel's national elections is on track to outpace the April vote.

Israel's Central Elections Committee said Tuesday that 63.7% of eligible voters had cast ballots by 8 p.m. (1700 GMT), around 2.4 percentage points higher than the same time during the previous election. Polls close at 10 p.m.

While Israelis typically vote in greater numbers than in many democracies, the April vote saw a comparatively low turnout of 68.5%. An unprecedented repeat vote was called after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a majority coalition and parliament dissolved itself.

Netanyahu, whose political career is on the line in a tight race, and other party leaders delivered election day appeals for citizens to go to the polls.

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4:10 p.m.

Facebook has penalized a chatbot on the page of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because it violated a law prohibiting the publication of public opinion polls in the days leading up to an election.

It was the second time in less than a week that Facebook has taken action against Netanyahu's page, which uses an automated chat function to communicate with followers. Last week it was over a violation of the social network's hate speech policy.

The measure came as Israelis head to the polls in what is largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu.

In a statement Tuesday, Facebook said it had suspended the bot "for violating local law" until polling stations close later in the day.

In a video posted to Facebook, Netanyahu called the step "disproportional" and "unjust," claiming his Likud party was being targeted by the country's election commission.

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1 p.m.:

The leader of the main Arab faction in Israel's parliament says his constituents "must be first-class voters on the way to becoming first-class citizens."

Ayman Odeh cast his ballot on Tuesday in the northern city of Haifa and urged his fellow Arab citizens to vote in large numbers. He called Benjamin Netanyahu "an obsessive prime minister who is inciting against us."

Netanyahu has alleged fraud in Arab voting areas and unsuccessfully pushed for legislation to place cameras in polling stations on election day. He also has accused his opponents of conspiring with Arab politicians to "steal" the election.

Turnout in the minority Arab sector was just below 50% in April. Many Arab voters boycotted the vote. Odeh has banded the various Arab parties together in a bid to boost turnout.

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12:45 p.m.

Israel's central election committee says early turnout for the repeat election has been slightly higher than the previous round.

It says that as of 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, some 15% of Israelis had already cast their ballots. It marked more than a 2% increase over the figure at the same time in April.

Voter turnout has emerged as a key element of this election.

Election day is a national holiday, a measure aimed at encouraging participation.

In April's election, turnout was about 69%, slightly below the 72% figure in the previous election in 2015.

But turnout in the minority Arab sector was just below 50% and many Arab voters boycotted the election. The various Arab leaders have handed together on a joint list for this election, hoping to boost turnout.

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10:30 a.m.

The chief challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel's election says the vote is about hope and change.

Retired military chief Benny Gantz cast his ballot on Tuesday alongside his wife near his home in the central Israeli city of Rosh Haayin.

Gantz's centrist Blue and White party is running even with Netanyahu's Likud. Both parties could struggle to form a majority coalition with smaller allies, though, forcing them into a potential unity government.

Outside his polling station, Gantz says "we will bring hope, we will be bring change, without corruption, without extremism."

The decorated ex-general is campaigning on unity and egalitarianism, offering himself as a calming influence and honest alternative to the scandal-plagued Netanyahu. It's the second election this year, after Netanyahu failed to build a coalition following April's vote and dissolved parliament

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10:00 a.m.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his country's election is going to be "very close."

Netanyahu cast his vote on Tuesday in Jerusalem alongside his wife. He is seeking a fifth term against the prospect of a likely indictment on corruption charges.

He faces a stiff challenge from retired military chief Benny Gantz, whose centrist Blue and White party is running even with Netanyahu's Likud. Both parties could struggle to form a majority coalition with smaller allies, though, forcing them into a potential unity government.

Netanyahu urged all citizens to cast their ballots and said of the election that "I can confirm to you this morning that they are very close."

It's the second election this year, after Netanyahu failed to build a coalition following April's vote and dissolved parliament.

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9:00 a.m.

The potential kingmaker of the Israeli election says he will insist upon a unity government between the two largest factions.

Avigdor Lieberman cast his vote early on Tuesday in his settlement of Nokdim. Lieberman, a former defense minister and one-time protégé of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, forced Israel's unprecedented second election of the year when he refused to join Netanyahu's coalition government after the previous election in April.

Polls suggest Netanyahu won't be able to form another coalition without Lieberman's support.

Lieberman says there won't be a third round of elections and the parties will have to deal with the "constellation" that emerges from this vote.

He says he will only sit in a wide government that includes Netanyahu's Likud and its main challenger, the centrist Blue and White party.

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7:00 a.m.

Israelis have begun voting in an unprecedented repeat election that will decide whether longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stays in power.

Against the prospect of a likely indictment on corruption charges, Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term.

He faces a stiff challenge from retired military chief Benny Gantz, whose centrist Blue and White party is running even with Netanyahu's Likud. Both parties could struggle to form a majority coalition with smaller allies, though, forcing them into a potential unity government.

It's the second election this year, after Netanyahu failed to build a coalition following April's vote and dissolved parliament.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday with exit polls expected at the end of the voting day at 10 p.m. Official results are projected to come in overnight.

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