Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed an "enormous victory" on Thursday night after the Likud party concluded its first leadership primary in five years, beating his rival Gideon Sa'ar with 72.5 percent of the vote to the latter's 27.5 percent.
Netanyahu said Friday that his wining the Likud primary election shows the "profound faith" his supports have in his way.
"It's a tremendous victory – we beat those who spreading fake news while trying to dwarf our achievement as well as the weather, which didn't deter Likud voters," Netanyahu said during his victory speech at Likud headquarters, without mentioning Sa'ar.
Netanyahu vowed to "lead Likud to a large victory in the coming election and we will continue to lead Israel to unprecedented accomplishments" in a Twitter post after polls closed.
In addition, Netanyahu said he would work to bring about a U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan valley, the Dead Sea and all Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Sa'ar congratulated Netanyahu, saying he would back him in the general election in March. "Running [against Netanyahu] was extremely important to Likud and its democratic nature. I completely stand behind my decision to run in the primary," he said, adding that those who are unwilling to take a chance for what they believe in, will never win."
According to Likud, 49 percent of the party's 116,048 members cast their ballot on Thursday.
Earlier, Netanyahu took to Twitter to accuse the Israeli left and the media of trying to prevent his supporters from coming out and voting for him. "My brothers and sisters, Likud members, immense forces – not just the weather – are trying to influence you to stay at home. Come vote for me to lead the party," he wrote.
Meanwhile, rival Sa'ar was photographed casting his vote at a Tel Aviv ballot. He made a statement in which he called on Likud members "to set out on a new path that will enable us to set up a strong and stable government and united the people of Israel. I ask for your voice, I ask for your faith, together we can make a change," he said.
Sa’ar’s headquarters issued a statement earlier Thursday which said that some voting stations were opened before time and observers were prevented from entering.
Earlier, his headquarters issued a statement that the Likud's election panel intentionally tried to make it harder for Sa'ar supporters, for example by not putting a polling station in south Tel Aviv, forcing voters to travel to polling stations uptown.
Netanyahu's main challenger in the general election and Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz said: "The party of [Ze'ev] Jabotinsky and [Menachem] Begin, who honored the supremacy of the rule of law, has chosen a leader charged with three pending corruption cases, who seeks to topple the rule of law and grant himself immunity from prosecution."
Gantz added that the results of the Likud primary "obligate us to choose unity, statesmanship and internal reconciliation."
On Wednesday evening, at a campaign rally held in the southern city of Ashkelon, Netanyahu and his wife Sara were rushed off stage to a nearby shelter when a rocket was launched from the Gaza Strip. The rocket was intercepted by an Iron Dome battery. He later returned to complete his speech. The Israeli military said it attacked targets in Gaza later that night in response.
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