Jerusalem: With around 70 percent of votes counted in Israel`s election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s Likud party was leading early Wednesday with 23.73 percent, the Central Elections Committee said.
His nearest rival, the centre-left Zionist Union was trailing with 19.06 percent, the committee`s website said, without translating the percentages into parliamentary seats won.
Netanyahu had earlier claimed victory in elections Tuesday and the initial results seemed to ensure him a third straight term, likely to further strain relations with the Palestinians.
Exit polls published on two TV stations as polling stations closed had given Likud and Zionist Union 27 seats each in the 120-member parliament.
A third poll gave Likud a one-seat lead.
Netanyahu had put security at the forefront of his campaign, arguing he is the only one capable of protecting Israel from an Iranian nuclear threat and vowing never to allow the Palestinians to establish a capital in east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians vowed to step up their diplomatic campaign for statehood.
"It is clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next government, so we say clearly that we will go to the International Criminal Court in the Hague and we will speed up, pursue and intensify" all diplomatic efforts, chief negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.