Exit polls provided little clarity in the race to power in Israel’s election – which could give Benjamin Netanyahu a record fifth term or see him dethroned by a centrist political novice.
Despite contradictory exit polls, Mr Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz was quick to claim victory, with his party saying: “We won! The Israeli public has had their say!”
He was shortly followed by the incumbent prime minister, who claimed his own “clear victory”.
The Kan exit poll showed Mr Gantz’s Blue and White Party leads by one seat but that the Netanyahu-led right-wing bloc would still dominate, while Channel 13 said the parties were tied and Channel 12 said Mr Gatnz led by four seats.
The final results are expected overnight.
Although a large number of parties are in the running, the results show Mr Netanyahu’s Likud and Mr Gantz’s Blue and White Party have attracted the majority of votes.
Throughout the campaign, Conservative Mr Netanyahu, 69, has been stalked in the opinion polls by Mr Gantz, 59, a former chief of the armed forces.
Supported by two other former generals at the top of his Blue and White Party, Mr Gantz has sought to push back against Mr Netanyahu’s self-styled image as unrivalled on national security.
“This is a choice between a strong right-wing government under Netanyahu or a weak leftist government under Gantz,” Mr Netanyahu’s Likud Party said in a statement before the polls closed.
Many have seen the election as a referendum on Mr Netanyahu, who is a divisive figure and is facing allegations of corruption, which he denies.
Despite being a controversial figure, Mr Netanyahu has always enjoyed a clear lead in public support. Even if he remains in power, the tight exit poll results will be seen as a wound for the man who has led Israel since 2009.