Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party has won the country's elections. Before the vote, Netanyahu pledged to keep building Jewish settlements and shelve negotiations for a Palestinian state.
With more than 99 percent of the vote counted on Wednesday, preliminary results showed Likud appeared set to hold 30 seats in Israel's 120-seat parliament, the Knesset. Despite exit polls from Tuesday's vote suggesting a tight race, the opposition Zionist Union trailed with 24 seats.
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said he had called Netanyahu to concede the race.
"A few minutes ago I spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and congratulated him on his achievement and wished him luck," Herzog told reporters.
According to Reuters news agency, Likud released a statement saying Netanyahu intended to quickly build a new coalition government with parties from the political right and religious groups. A coalition would need 61 seats in the Knesset.
"Reality is not waiting for us," Netanyahu said. "The citizens of Israel expect us to quickly put together a leadership that will work for them regarding security, economy and society as we committed to do - and we will do so."
Netanyahu had late Tuesday already declared his party's victory, which came after several days of last-minute campaigning in which he took a sharp turn to the right, saying he opposed the creation of a Palestinian state and promising to expand Jewish settlement building in Israeli-occupied areas which the Palestinians want for a future state.
Likud's victory is a dramatic turnaround from the last pre-election opinion polls, which put Isaac Herzog's centrist Zionist Union ahead with 25-26 seats, with Netanyahu's Likud taking 20-22.
se/bw (Reuters, AP)