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Israeli exit polls show election victory within Netanyahu’s grasp

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

JERUSALEM, March 2 (Reuters) - Victory in a cliffhanger Israeli election on Monday seemed to be within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's grasp, with exit polls showing him just one seat short of a governing right-wing bloc in parliament.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, responded to the projections by tweeting “Thank you” and a heart emoji. He fought Israel’s third election in less than a year under the cloud of corruption charges, which he denies.

The four-term prime minister, who heads the right-wing Likud party, had failed to secure a governing majority in the legislature in elections held in April and September.

Opinion polls in the final days of campaigning had predicted further deadlock. But polls broadcast by Israel’s three main television channels after voting ended showed Likud pulling ahead of the centrist Blue and White party led by former general Benny Gantz.

All three exit polls gave Likud and like-minded parties 60 of parliament’s 120-seats, just one short of a majority. During the campaign, right-wing and religious parties had pledged to join a Likud-led coalition government.

Actual results, which have differed in the past from exit polls, will be released on Tuesday.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller Editing by Dan Williams)

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