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'A huge win!': Israel's Netanyahu declares victory in ruling party leadership primary

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Saar, a former minister seen as to the right of Netanyahu, tweeted after polls closed thanking his supporters, volunteers and voters.

Jerusalem: Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared victory in a leadership primary in his right-wing Likud party on Friday, ensuring he will lead it into March elections.

"A huge win! Thank you to Likud members for their trust, support and love," Netanyahu tweeted an hour after polls closed. Initial results showed Netanyahu comfortably beating rival Gideon Saar, though a final tally was expected to take several hours.

"With God's and your help, I will lead Likud to a big victory in the upcoming elections and we will continue to lead the State of Israel to unprecedented achievements," Netanyahu added. Around 57,000 Likud members cast their ballots across the country throughout Thursday.

Saar, a former minister seen as to the right of Netanyahu, tweeted after polls closed thanking his supporters, volunteers and voters. He announced his leadership challenge last month after Israel's attorney general indicted Netanyahu for fraud, bribery and breach of trust.

Netanyahu, 70, denies the allegations and has accused the police, prosecutors and the media of a witchhunt. He will now remain Prime Minister until new elections in March -- Israel's third in 12 months.

Likud and the centrist Blue and White were near neck-and-neck after polls in March and September, with neither able to form a coalition in the country's proportional parliament.

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