Netanyahu Seeks to Fend Off Challenger Sa’ar as Likud Primary Polls Close

Likud party voting stations closed on Thursday night, concluding the first leadership primary to take in five years, after members set out to choose between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival within the party, Gideon Sa'ar.

According to Likud, 49 percent of the party's 116,048 members cast their ballot on Thursday. Both men now await the results, which are slated to be published early on Friday morning.

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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.