April 9 (UPI) -- With 98 percent of votes counted Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was poised to win the Israeli national election, edging out rival Benny Gantz in a closely contested race that followed a heated campaign.
"This is an unimaginable achievement," Netanyahu said in announcing his victory. "I am very moved tonight, a night of tremendous victory. I am very excited that the people of Israel once again trusted me for the fifth time and with greater confidence," Israel's Ynet News reported.
Both Netanyahu's Likud party and Gantz's Blue and White Party had won 35 seats in the 120-seat parliament known as the Knesset.
Some 14,000 votes separated the two parties in an election with thousands of votes still to be counted. But Netanyahu was prepared to form a right-wing coalition government of the five conservative and ultra-Orthodox parties, which would give him 65 Knesset seats to form a majority government similar to what he has now, The Times of Israel reported.
The Shas, United Torah Judaism, Kulanu and the Union of Right-Wing parties previously announced they'd recommend Netanyahu to form the government.
Meanwhile, Labor and Meretz said they'd recommend Gantz, while Kahlon and Liberman said they would decide Wednesday.
"I have already started talks with the leaders of our right-wing parties, and almost all of them have publicly declared that they will recommend me to form the government, and will do so to our president," Netanyahu said. "There will be a right-wing government, but I intend to be the prime minister of all the citizens of Israel, right and left, Jews and non-Jews. I care about everyone, that's how it was and that's how it will be."
Early Wednesday, Benny Gantz wrote to this party saying it's not over yet, Haaretz reported.
"It's looking bleak but the results are not yet final. It's possible that there will be electoral shifts, and that we can make certain political moves," he said, adding that voters "wanted a different way and we showed it to them. We will not back down from our public duty to represent over a million people who asked us for something different."
He said they should be proud.
Turnout among the Arab communities was historically low and comes as the Likud party said it hired 1,200 people with hidden cameras to film polling places in an effort to expose voter fraud.
The party said it sent activists into "problematic" polling locations to film the activities there. The Arab-Jewish socialist Hadash-Ta'al Party immediately lodged a complaint to the Central Elections Committee.
Committee Chairman Justice Hanan Melcer said it's illegal to secretly film voters at the polls. Officials said several cameras were found in predominantly Arab towns and five were arrested in Rahat.
When Netanyahu was asked about the cameras, he said they should be everywhere to ensure a "kosher voting process."
The Hadash Tal Party blamed the cameras on political opponents, saying they "understand our power well in overthrowing the government."
"Following a number of suspected irregularities in polling stations in the northern region, the police are working in these focal points, in coordination with the Elections Committee, in order to maintain public order and prevent harm to the integrity of the elections and the secrecy of the vote," authorities said.
Netanyahu has led the country for a decade but faces several indictments on bribery and breach of trust. He's touted his close ties to U.S. President Donald Trump, who signed a proclamation recently declaring Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights. He also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week and thanked him for returning the remains of an Israeli soldier.