The Times of Israel liveblogged Israel’s election day and other Monday events as they happened.

Voting in his hometown, Gantz says hopes for ‘process of healing’ to begin

Voting in his hometown of Rosh Ha’ayin, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz says he hopes for a “process of healing” to begin following today’s national vote.

“The last few days we have all been exposed to lies, recordings and a system that tries to pit us against each other,” he says.

“Hopefully on this day we will begin the process of healing and begin living together with each other. I urge everyone to go vote. Do not be drawn after lies.”

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and his wife Revital vote in their hometown of Rosh Ha’ayin on March 2, 2020 (Courtesy)

— Raoul Wootliff

Shas activists offer voters charms against coronavirus at polling stations

Shas activists are distributing kameas, or charms, offering divine protection against the coronavirus at polling stations in Jerusalem.

At one station in the Talpiot neighborhood, a police officer tells voters that there is nothing illegal about this, since other parties are giving out fliers and this is no different.

On Army Radio on Sunday evening, Shas leader Aryeh Deri was asked about the legality of the kameas, and claimed that everything Shas was doing to encourage voters had been checked and approved by legal authorities.

A charm distributed by Shas political activists at election day polling stations, offering divine protection against the coronavirus, on March 2, 2020 (ToI staff)

Israelis under home quarantine for coronavirus cast votes at special locations

Voting begins at 16 special polling stations across the country for 5,630 Israelis under quarantine due to concerns of possible exposure to the coronavirus.

The temporary polling stations, made up of two small tents with an adjoining window, are staffed by Magen David Adom paramedics wearing protective gear. Voters are each given a pack with a mask and gloves which they must put on after applying anti-bacterial gel.

The votes, which are placed in a specially lined ballot box, will be sent to the Central Elections Committee after voting ends, where they will counted by staff also wearing protective gear.

At one of the special polling stations just outside the city of Modiin, some 30 people were lining up to vote, with the process for each voter taking around 5-10 minutes each.

An Israeli under home quarantine arrives to cast a vote in a special polling station outside the city of Modiin, Monday, March 2, 2020 (Raoul Wootliff)

“It feels hysterical. It feels over the top. But we will respect it,” says Yishai Akker from nearby the city of Givat Shmuel who returned last week from a family skiing trip to Italy. Asked if he was worried about contracting the virus from other voters, Akker, first in the queue, says, “That’s why we wanted to be first. So that we wouldn’t be in contact with others or materials touched by others.

“But,” he adds, “we didn’t want to give up on the right.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Rivlin says he’s deeply ashamed to be voting a third time: ‘We don’t deserve this’

Voting in Jerusalem’s Beit Hakerem neighborhood, President Reuven Rivlin is far from celebratory, saying he is ashamed to be voting for a third time in less than a year.

“This is normally a festive day, but the truth is that I don’t feel celebratory,” he states. “I only feel a sense of deep shame when I face you, my fellow citizens.

“We simply don’t deserve this. We don’t deserve another horrible election campaign that descends into filth, like the one that ends today.”

Joint List’s Tibi: Today we’ll make history and win at least 15 seats

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi votes in his hometown Taibe alongside his mother, brother and two daughters.

“Today, we will make history. We are going to realize an unprecedented achievement — at least 15 seats,” he tells reporters before casting his ballot.

Though he is not the leader of the predominantly Arab list, Tibi has been demonized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu throughout the campaign as its face, with the slogan “It’s either Bibi or Tibi.”

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi seen at a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem asking to disqualify the Joint List from running in the September elections, August 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

More from Rivlin on the futility of a third national vote

The president says Israelis “don’t deserve this never-ending instability. We deserve a government that works for us.”

He adds: “I ask you to go and vote. Every vote is the right one. Every vote is your voice. Go out and make it heard.”

Election Committee shoots down limousine ride offer for Likud voters in Eilat

Some entrepreneurial Likud supporters in Eilat have been offering to pick up party voters in a limousine to take them to polling stations in the city “in style,” while providing them light refreshments on the way.

Yisrael Beytenu is having none of it, petitioning the Central Elections Committee against the ad.

The CEC rules that the offer constitutes election bribery and orders the two individuals behind the ad to take it down immediately. It accepts the Likud party’s stance that the offer was not connected to the party.

— with Sue Surkes

Lapid: Today is a choice between unity and hate

Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid, voting in Tel Aviv, says: “I didn’t go to vote for a party today, I went to vote for what kind of country we will have here tomorrow.

“Will we have a country that’s good and fair and respectful and unifying or a country of division and hate?”

Blue and White’s no. 2 Yair Lapid casts his ballot in Tel Aviv, March 2, 2020 (Elad Malka)

Netanyahu says Israelis can go to the polls without fear of coronavirus

Voting in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urges the public to go to the polls, saying there is no fear of contracting coronavirus.

“I urge the citizens of Israel to go vote. This is a great democratic right and we should be proud of it,” Netanyahu says.

“We have done everything we can against the coronavirus. Everything is under control and we have taken every possible measure. Don’t believe fake news, you can vote with determination and confidence.”

Some 14.5% of voters cast votes by 10 a.m., in slight drop from September

The Central Elections Committee’s director general Orly Adas reports that 14.5 percent of eligible voters have cast their ballots by 10 a.m. — half a percentage point down on that same time during the last election in September, but “much better than we expected.”

She says that several rumors stating that Itamar Ben Gvir’s extreme right-wing party, Otzma Yehudit, has pulled out of the election are untrue.

With Israel one of the only nations so far (following Iran and Slovakia) to hold elections during the coronavirus outbreak, the country’s specially adapted polling stations for citizens in quarantine are attracting international attention, according to Adas.

A voter casts his ballot at a voting station in Tel Aviv, March 2, 2020 (Flash90)

She says crowds are building up at these special polling stations, partly because it takes longer to process each voter, ensuring that sterile conditions are maintained.

Election officials say polling inspectors up from 3,000 in September to 5,000

The Central Election Committee says the number of inspectors at polling stations has gone up from 3,000 in the September elections to 5,000 today.

Each inspector is responsible for two to four polling stations during the day, and will be assigned to one polling station during the evening, where he or she will film the entire proceedings. The CEC emphasizes that these inspectors are the only ones permitted to film in polling stations, and that anyone else doing so will be committing a criminal offense.

— Sue Surkes

Member of council that advises Iran’s Khamenei dies of virus, 66 dead in country

A member of a council that advises Iran’s supreme leader has died after falling sick from the new coronavirus, state radio reports, becoming the first top official to succumb to the illness that is affecting members of the Islamic Republic’s leadership.

Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi died at a north Tehran hospital of the virus, state radio says. He was 71. The council advises Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as settles disputes between the top cleric and parliament.

Iran says there are 66 dead amid 1,501 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in the Islamic Republic. Iran has the highest death toll from the virus outside of China, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Mask-clad pedestrians walk through Tajrish Bazaar in the Iranian capital Tehran on February 29, 2020 (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

— AP

Election Committee petitioned to stop Shas’s distribution of charms to voters

Labor-Gesher-Meretz petitions the Central Elections Committee to issue a temporary injunction against the Shas party for distributing charms and boxes of candles to voters at polling stations with the promise that they will protect the recipients from the coronavirus.

It asks that a significant fine be slapped on the party, given that it made similar (though virus-free) gestures during the last two elections and was given injunctions on both.

During April’s election, the ultra-Orthodox party also handed out boxes of candles adorned with a picture of the late Shas leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, as well as flyers promising that those who brought an additional voter to the polling booths would be honored with a letter in a Torah scroll to be deposited at the Western Wall.

Shas party chairman and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri casts his ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem on March 2, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

— Sue Surkes

Lapid asks little girl who she’ll vote for: ‘Bibi,’ she answers

Blue and White’s Yair Lapid gets an unwelcome surprise when he jocularly asks a young girl who she will be voting for in the election.

“For Bibi,” the girl says to laughter from those around the pair.

Lapid takes it in stride, though. “Oy, for Bibi!” he laments.

The video is now making the rounds on social media. Better luck next time.

Fears of trapped victims after bus hits building in Ramat Gan, wall collapses

A bus hits a building in Ramat Gan, causing part of a wall to collapse and reportedly trapping one or more people underneath.

Emergency teams are at the scene.

More as it comes.

IDF strikes car in Syria, says it responded to attempted sniping attack

The IDF says it carried out a strike in Syria near the border with Israel in the Quneitra region, citing an attempt to carry out a sniping attack.

“A short time ago an IDF force identified an attempt at a sniping attack in the northern Golan Heights,” the military says. “The force attacked the vehicle involved in the attempted attack.”

No immediate word on casualties in the strike.

Voter participation at noon is at 27.6%, highest since 1999

The Central Elections Committee says 27.6 percent of registered voters cast their ballots by noon.

That is the highest figure for this hour since 1999.

In April 24.8% had voted by 12 p.m., and in September 26.8%.

A handy chart of participation figures since 1973 can be found here, on the CEC website.

CEC director general Orly Adas says 6,453,255 Israelis have the right to vote, up around 1% since the last election (some 60,000 people).

Bennett on strike in Syria: We will cut off the hands of the enemy

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett comments on the strike in Syria.

“Even on election day our enemies try to harm us,” he says. “This day too, as on every day, we will cut off the hands of the enemy and not allow them to hinder our daily lives.”

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett attends the campaign launch of his right-wing Yamina party, ahead of the general elections, February 12, 2020 (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Update on the injured in bus accident in Ramat Gan

Three people were injured in the accident earlier when a bus hit a building in Ramat Gan.

A man, 35, was seriously hurt when he was trapped beneath the bus. A 25-year-old woman was moderately injured. The bus driver was lightly hurt.

All were rushed to nearby hospitals. Police investigators were at the scene to ascertain the cause of the crash.

Otzma Yehudit accuses Likud of sending fake texts claiming it has quit race

The far-right Otzma Yehudit party has submitted an urgent petition against the Likud party to the Central Elections Committee, accusing the prime minister’s party of sending millions of anonymous text messages to voters claiming his party had quit the race.

The messages are said to urge voters to vote for Likud instead.

Otzma Yehudit is not projected to win enough votes to enter the Knesset and right-wing leaders have urged voters not to cast ballots for it.

Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir at the entrance to the Central Elections Committee in the Knesset, January 15, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Syrian media: Israeli strike earlier destroyed car of militia loyal to regime

Syrian media reports that the car hit in an IDF strike near the border in the Golan Heights earlier belonged to a militia loyal to the Syrian regime.

It says the vehicle was completely destroyed and burned. It is not clear how many occupants were in it at the time.

Russian FM meets Hamas leader Haniyeh in Moscow

A Hamas delegation is in Moscow, with the terror group’s leader Ismail Haniyeh meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Hamas says the two sides are discussing intra-Palestinian reconciliation, the US peace plan, and bilateral relations.

Hamas claims the dialogue saw “a convergence of visions and positions regarding these three issues.”

2,000 quarantined individuals cast ballots at special polling stations by 3 p.m.

As of 3:00 p.m. some 2,000 voters have cast ballots at special polling stations for those under home quarantine for fear of exposure to the coronavirus, out of some 5,600 eligible voters, Channel 12 reports.

Hundreds of people are said to be waiting in line at the 16 locations, apparently due to the slow voting process that involves the use of disinfectants and various safety procedures.

Election Committee fines Shas for giving voters protective charms, blessings

The Central Elections Committee has fined the Shas party NIS 7,500 ($2,150) for distributing charms, blessings and booklets to voters at polling stations.

The ultra-Orthodox party is said to have promised voters that the trinkets would protect them from coronavirus infection.

Labor-Gesher-Meretz had appealed to the CEC to fine Shas, saying the practice constituted election bribery.

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis seen near election campaign posters outside a voting station in Tzfat on March 2, 2020 (David Cohen/Flash90)

Amid fair weather, 150,000 Israelis flock to parks on national day off

Some 150,000 Israelis and 10,000 tourists celebrate the national day off by flocking to national parks and nature reserves to spend election day marveling at wild flowers, blossoming almond trees and streams full of water.

Among the most popular locations were the Yarkon-Tel Afek National Park east of Tel Aviv with 5,600 visitors, the Banias in the Golan Heights with 4,200, the national parks in Caesarea and Ashkelon with 3,300 each, Beit Guvrin with 3,100, Masada in the Judean Desert with 3,000 and the Ayun stream in northern Israel with 2,400.

— Sue Surkes

Voters speak of weariness, waste of money as they vote for 3rd time

Several voters speak to the Ynet news site about their feelings about the election, Israel’s third in less than a year. The general attitude seems to be one of weary resignation.

“We need to do it, we need to get it over with,” says Itai Oren of Kibbutz Reshafim in northern Israel. “There’s a great weariness, great exasperation with the process, the style and attitude… Enough, finish it and start running this country.”

Kohavit Mor of Tel Aviv says: “It’s a waste of money. A crime. There’s no other word for it. I feel I’m a party to a crime. People are sick with cancer in hospitals… and billions are being spilt here.”

In Haifa, Adham Odeh says Arab voters will “vote the third time and the fourth time and the fifth. We’ll come and vote as much as we need to, and God willing tomorrow morning we’ll wake up with 16 seats [for the Joint List].”

Voting at polling stations for quarantined people extended till 7 p.m.

Voting at special polling stations for individuals under self-quarantine due to fears they were exposed to the coronavirus will be extended by two hours due to crowding and delays at the 16 locations throughout the country, the Central Elections Committee says.

The specially set up booths will now remain open until 7 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. as originally planned.

Voting has been slow-going at the stations due to the lengthy safety procedures in place at the sites to ensure the ballots cast by the voters are sterile.

The CEC is also setting up two additional voting stations for this population, one in Tel Aviv and another in Kfar Saba.

People arrive to vote at a special polling station for voters quarantined due to possible exposure to the new coronavirus in Jerusalem on March 2, 2020 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

— with Sue Surkes

3,260 people have now voted at polling booths for quarantined individuals

As of 4:30 p.m., 3,260 people under quarantine have voted in the special polling stations set up for them throughout the country.

Blue and White chiefs in Tel Aviv to push for votes, claim support insufficient

The Blue and White party’s four top leaders — Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi — are in Tel Aviv in a push to get out the vote in the central city, citing insufficient support from voters, Channel 12 reports.

The network’s political reporter Daphna Liel says Blue and White officials warn of a surge of Likud voters that is not being met by enough counter-voting by their backers.

However the network also cautions that the statements may be part of the now routine so-called “gevalt” tactics intended to shore up votes by frightening voters.

Yair Lapid (left) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv, on February 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Blue and White irate over doctored video of Gantz

Blue and White files a petition with the Central Elections Committee for the removal of a doctored video posted to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Facebook page in which party Benny Gantz supposedly calls on Israelis not to vote for him.

In the petition, Blue and White argues that the video violates an Israeli election law barring the publication of misleading campaign materials.

“Don’t give up until the last moment. Don’t put [a voting slip for] Blue and White in the ballot box,” Gantz seems to say in the video shared by Netanyahu.

What he actually says is “If you don’t put Blue and White in the ballot box, we’ll get a fourth election” — with the last part cut off by the Likud video.

Voter participation at 47% by 4 p.m., once again highest rate since 1999

Voter participation in the national elections stands at 47 percent as of 4 p.m., the Central Elections Committee says.

We are again at numbers not seen since 1999. The September election saw 44.3​ % at 4 p.m., while April saw 42.8%.

Channel 12 analysts believe high turnout likely heralds Likud victory

Channel 12’s political analysts Amit Segal and Aviv Bushinsky say they believe these elections, unlike the past two, will prove decisive, and that Israel will not go to a fourth round of elections.

Both intimate that they think Likud, not Blue and White, will emerge stronger today. Segal, noting the high turnout, argues that Blue and White and the ultra-Orthodox parties reached their full potential in the past two elections and that the rise in voters this time thus likely mainly comes from Likud and Arab Israeli ranks — but particularly Likud.

More from Blue and White on latest ‘urgent’ moves to shore up votes

Blue and White says that in response to “low voter turnout in key Blue and White locations,” party MKs have been instructed “to heighten their presence in all of the key locations and base pockets, and to stay in the field until polls close at 10 p.m.”

Party leader Benny Gantz and his no. 2 Yair Lapid will continue their push in Tel Aviv, while no. 3 and no. 4, respectively Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi, will focus on the Sharon region, including Herzliya, Ra’anana, Kfar Saba and Kiryat Ono.

(From R-L) Blue and White party leaders Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi attend a Blue and White faction meeting in Tel Aviv, on September 19, 2019. (Avshalom Shoshoni/Flash90)

Top pollster hints exit poll looks to be quite different from pre-vote surveys

Channel 13’s veteran pollster Camil Fuchs says he believes Monday night’s exit poll “will be one of the most interesting we’ve ever had.”

He hints that the results could be quite different from those predicted by the polls before the election.

Speaking on the network as his team continues to interview people after their votes, Fuchs says: “It will be extremely interesting. We’re seeing things we hadn’t thought about.”

He notes that pollsters had not expected voter participation to go up in the third round of elections, as they so far have. “We thought people were apathetic, that people wouldn’t come out to vote.”

Blue and White sources say Tel Aviv turnout much lower than rest of country

Blue and White sources tell The Times of Israel that voter turnout is “significantly lower” in Tel Aviv than across the rest of the country.

They say the party’s final push is now entirely focused on Tel Aviv and the surrounding areas, with all its MKs set to be campaigning across the central region until polls close at 10 p.m.

Israelis vote at a polling station in Tel Aviv on March 2, 2020 (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

“It’s very, very close,” they claim.

–Raoul Wootliff

Two more Israelis diagnosed with coronavirus, bringing number of sick to 12

The Health Ministry says two more Israelis have been diagnosed with coronavirus after returning from Italy.

The two returned to Israel last week. One is from Ramat Gan and the other from Ashdod.

The two bring the number of sick Israelis to 12.

Jordanian PM says ties with Israel at a nadir, peace treaty ‘at risk’

Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz tells CNN that relations with Israel are at their lowest point since the peace treaty between the nations was signed in 1994, and warns the peace treaty itself could be at risk.

“Today we are at the lowest level in the relationship that has been since signing the peace treaty,” Razzaz says.

He speaks of Israeli “unilateral measures” and the climate created by the Trump administration’s peace plan.

“The peace treaty can go into a deep freeze mode and therefore it is definitely at risk,” he says.

Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz speaks to CNN, Monday, March 2, 2020 (CNN screenshot)

Voter turnout at 56.3% as of 6 p.m.; 3,611 cast ballots at booths for quarantined voters

The Central Elections Committee says that as of 6 p.m., 56.3 percent of eligible Israeli voters have cast their ballots.

That is up from September, when 53.5% of voters had gone to the polls by 6 p.m., and April, when 52% had voted by that time.

Like earlier figures published by the committee, the figure marks the highest voting turnout as of this hour since the 1999 elections.

The committee also says that 3,611 people voted at the special polling stations for people under quarantine.

Special voting stations close for Israelis under quarantine

Voting ends at special polling stations set up for Israelis under home quarantine over concerns that they may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

The voting stations had been set to close at 5 p.m., but the Central Elections Committee allowed them to remain open for another two hours, amid long lines to vote, apparently due to the need to maintain sterility.

Netanyahu issues ’emergency’ about purportedly low turnout in Likud strongholds

After projecting confidence about high levels of support for Likud, Prime Minister Netanyahu switches to warning about an “emergency” in areas where the party has traditionally done well in elections.

“Emergency report: Low voting levels in Judea and Samaria [West Ban], Eilat, Tiberia, Netivot, Migdal Haemek, Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Ata,” Netanyahu writes on his Twitter account.

Blue and White chief Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s centrist rival, also looks to boost turnout in areas where his party has fared well, visiting Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv to implore Israelis to vote.

Former Labor leader: Blue and White in ‘real panic’

Former Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich tells Channel 12 “there’s real panic” in the Blue and White party.

“It’s no accident Blue and White leaders are in Tel Aviv with megaphones, because the turnout in their heartland is weak,” she says.

“They may come to regret turning down President Rivlin’s suggestion of a power-sharing rotation with Netanyahu” made after the September race, she says.

Bennett claims Likud to win 37 seats, Netanyahu ‘the next PM of Israel’

Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett claims Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud is currently set to win some 37 seats and that the premier and his right-wing allies will secure enough seats in the elections to form a government.

“According to the statistics that we have, Likud is very strong, around 37 seats,” Bennett says in a statement. “Netanyahu is the next prime minister of Israel.”

Bennett, who is defense minister, says therefore that right-wingers should vote for Yamina, suggesting that his claim about high levels of support for Likud is aimed at driving voters who are still deciding which of the two parties to back to vote for Yamina.

Elections committee orders Likud to take down doctored video of Gantz

The Central Elections Committee orders Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party to take down an altered video of Benny Gantz appearing to tell Israelis not to vote for his Blue and White party.

The doctored video no longer appears on Netanyahu’s social media accounts.

Pollster hints exit polls likely to surprise: ‘We haven’t seen figures like this for a long time’

The pollster for the Kan public broadcaster indicates Israelis are in for a surprise when exit polls are published at 10 p.m.

“[We’re] seeing changes, we haven’t seen figures like this for a long time,” Dudi Hassid is quoted as saying in a tweet from Kan reporter Michael Shemesh.

The comment comes after Channel 13’s pollster Camil Fuchs said he believes tonight’s exit polls “will be extremely interesting. We’re seeing things we hadn’t thought about.”

Joint US-Israeli military exercise scrapped due to coronavirus — CNN

An American military official tells CNN that the US military has cancelled a joint drill with the Israel Defense Forces, over concerns about the new coronavirus.

“In close coordination with the Israeli government and out of an abundance of caution in the face of the evolving situation with COVID-19, the decision has been made to cancel the exercise. We value our strong partnership with Israel and look forward to continuing training together in the future,” the official says.

According to the network, the “Eagle Genesis” exercise was set to include American troops stationed in Italy, where there has been a significant outbreak of the virus.

Ambulance service says 4,073 Israelis under quarantine voted at special polling stations

The Magen David Adom ambulance service says that 4,073 Israelis voted at special polling stations for people under quarantine over concerns that they may have the coronavirus.

TV: Blue and White ‘resigned’ to possibility of not being the largest party

Channel 12’s Karen Marciano, reporting from Blue and White headquarters, says Gantz’s party is “resigned” to the possibility not being the biggest party, after receiving 33 seats in September’s elections to Likud’s 32.

Blue and White’s hope now, she says, is to deny Netanyahu the 61 seats he needs for a Knesset majority.

Joint List official says Arab voter turnout ‘moderately’ up since September elections

A Joint List official says that 50-52 percent of eligible Arab voters have cast ballots as of 7:40 PM.

Speaking to reporters in Shefa Amr, Sharaf Hisan, the head of the Joint List’s election day campaign, says that Arab turnout has “moderately” increased in comparison to where it stood at the same hour on September 17, 2019 — the date of the last national elections.

— Adam Rasgon

Elections chief rejects Otzma Yehudit petition alleging Likud fraud

The Central Elections Committee rejects a petition by Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the extreme right-wing Otzma Yehudit party, which claimed that the Likud party had sent SMS messages to supporters saying that Otzma Yehudit had pulled out of the race.

The CEC’s chairman, Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel, says Ben Gvir’s claim lacks evidence.

— Sue Surkes

After earlier warnings, Gantz says ‘awakening has begun’ among Blue and White voters

After warning earlier of low levels of turnout among Blue and White supporters, party leader Benny Gantz says an ” awakening has begun” in cities where it enjoys high levels of backing.

“In the last elections, hundreds of thousands of people voted in the last two hours. That’s a lot,” tweets Gantz.

Despite claims of 37 seats for Likud, Netanyahu claims party trailing Blue and White

Despite talk on the right that Likud will win 37 seats, Prime Minister Netanyahu is asserting that his party is currently trailing Blue and White.

“The media is trying to put Likud voters to sleep. We’re still a seat away from Blue and White. We must reduce the gap,” he tweets.

Klobuchar to drop out of Democratic race, endorse BIden

WASHINGTON — Amy Klobuchar, a Midwestern moderate, will end her underdog presidential campaign and endorse Joe Biden, US media reports today on the eve of the biggest voting day in the Democratic nomination process.

The New York Times and networks including NBC say the centrist senator will bow out of the race and head to Dallas, Texas, to appear alongside Biden, the former vice president, at a rally later today.

After a blowout victory in the last primary, Saturday in South Carolina, Biden heads into “Super Tuesday” with a head of steam as he challenges leftist firebrand Bernie Sanders for top spot in the race to see who faces Donald Trump in November’s election.


US Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota at Democratic primary debate in Los Angeles, California, December 19, 2019. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP)

Head of Likud’s Anglo campaign says party headed to ‘all-out victory’

The head of the Likud party’s outreach to English-speaking voters predicts the party is on its way to a sweeping victory.

“Israel never had a better leader than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel never had a better friend in the White House than President Trump. We’re bringing them together,” says Avi Hyman, who heads the Likud’s Anglo campaign.

“The atmosphere today has been electrifying. The PM’s message to the 300,000 Likudniks that didn’t vote in the last election has been heard, and it would appear that we’re heading to all-out victory,” he adds, holding “Keep Israel Great!” And “Anglos for Netanyahu” posters.

— Raphael Ahren

Avi Hyman, the head of Likud’s Anglo campaign, at the Tel Aviv event poll where Likud will have its post election party, March 2, 2020. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Turnout at 65.5% of eligible voters as of 8 p.m.

The Central Elections Committee says that as of 8 p.m., 65.5 percent of eligible Israeli voters have cast their ballots.

That is the highest turnout figure at that time since 1999, and up from 63.7% in September and 61.3% in April.

Shas leader claims Likud set to get 37-38 seats, ‘but some of this is at our expense’

Echoing the national-religious Yamina party, Shas chief Aryeh Deri says that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud is set for a big night and claims that 100,000 supporters of his ultra-Orthodox have not voted.

“Bibi Netanyahu is already at 37, 38 seats,” he says in a video statement. “But some of this is at our expense.”

Blue and White sees big pick up in seats for Likud, but not ‘necessarily enough’ for a coalition

Blue and White sources tell the Times of Israel that the turnout in key Blue and White strongholds has not been good enough and that Netanyahu looks set to win by a number of seats, but not “necessarily enough to form a government.”

“They just didn’t” get out to vote, one party official says of Tel Aviv residents, offering an early post-mortem.

— Raoul Wootliff

Elections committee says 4,076 voted at special polling stations for quarantined Israelis

The Central Elections Committee says 4,076 people under home quarantine voted today at special polling stations, which closed at 7 p.m.

That figure is three more people than was earlier reported by the Magen David Adom ambulance service.

Channel 12 exit poll: Likud to win 37 seats, right-wing bloc to get 60

The following are the results of Channel 12’s exit poll, which indicate that Benjamin Netanyahu will remain prime minister:

Likud: 37
Blue and White: 33
Joint List: 14
Shas: 9
United Torah Judaism: 7
Yamina: 7
Labor-Gesher-Meretz: 7
Yisrael Beytenu: 6

Right-wing bloc: 60
Center-left/Arab bloc: 54
Yisrael Beytenu: 6

Kan exit poll: Likud to win 36 seats, right-wing to get 60

The following are the results of the Kan public broadcaster’s exit poll, which indicates that Netanyahu has retained the premiership:

Likud: 36
Blue and White: 33
Joint List: 15
Shas: 9
United Torah Judaism: 8
Yamina: 7
Labor-Gesher-Meretz: 6
Yisrael Beytenu: 6

Right-wing bloc: 60
Center-left/Arab bloc: 54
Yisrael Beytenu: 6

Channel 13 exit poll: Likud to win 37 seats, right-wing bloc to get 60

The following are the results of Channel 13’s exit poll:

Likud: 37
Blue and White: 32
Joint List: 14
Shas: 9
Yisrael Beytenu: 8
United Torah Judaism: 8
Yamina: 6
Labor-Gesher-Meretz: 6

Right-wing bloc: 60
Center-left/Arab bloc: 52
Yisrael Beytenu: 8

Likud activists wait with celebrations

Despite the surprisingly positive result, the mood at the Likud election event in Tel Aviv is very restrained.

When the three television stations air the results of their respective exit polls, which unanimously indicate that Netanyahu is likely to remain prime minister, a handful of activists cheer for a brief moment, but no celebration erupts.

One party faithful shouts “Bibi, Bibi,” but no one chimes in.

— Raphael Ahren

Shas supporters elated by their party’s showing, right’s emerging victory

Hundreds of Shas supporters erupt in excitement at the party’s headquarters in Jerusalem as they watch the release of TV exit polls showing that their ultra-Orthodox, Mizrahi faction is predicted to win nine seats and their right-wing bloc is on the verge of victory in the year’s third election, with 60 seats, according to all three exit polls.

Even before chants for their party’s chairman, Aryeh Deri, the crowd cheered “Bibi, Bibi, Bibi!,” elated over the strong performance exit polls showed for Netanyahu.

The excitement spiked when Channel 12 announced that Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu’s party, which campaigned aggressively against the Haredi factions, is only expected to receive six seats.

“Avigdor, go home!” the Shas supporters chanted.

— Jacob Magid

Joy at Likud election party as exit polls show impressive result for party

“He’s great, he’s great,” a handful of party activists chant at the Likud election event, as the hitherto sleepy event slowly comes to life.

Loud Mizrahi pop music begins blaring through the speakers and backbencher MKs are mingling with reporters and party activists, celebrating the projected victory.

— Raphael Ahren

Netanyahu, right-wing allies vow to form ‘strong national government’

Prime Minister Netanyahu phones his right-wing religious partners after exit polls forecast his bloc receiving 60 seats in the elections, one seat of a majority.

They agree to form a “strong national government” as soon as possible, Likud says.

Shock, disappointment at Blue and White election party, after exit polls show Likud surge

A stunned silence takes hold among the very few Blue and White activists at the party’s election night headquarters, as results of the three exit polls showing a surge for the Likud flash repeatedly on the three giant screens at the front of Hangar 11 in Tel Aviv.

“The main feeling is one of disappointment,” says activist Nachum Schwartzberg.

“The main disappointment is that people ignored the disgraceful campaign of the Likud and of the three indictments against Netanyahu,” he says.

“We have to wait until the final results,” he adds. “But its not a good night.”

Party officials were equally low, describing the results as a “real blow,” but trying to remain positive.

“No one is going to give up the hope for a better future,” one party official said earnestly.

— Raoul Wootliff

Netanyahu to give ‘victory speech’ at 11:45 p.m.

Likud says Prime Minister Netanyahu will give a “victory speech” at 11:45 p.m. after exit polls showed his party surging to 36-37 seats.

All three exit polls forecast Likud and its right-wing allies picking up 60 seats, one short of a majority.

Erekat calls exit poll results a win for ‘apartheid’

Joint List head cheers exit poll results as ‘the greatest parliamentary achievement’

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh touts the 14-15 seats that exit polls project the majority Arab alliance winning as “the greatest parliamentary achievement for Arabs and Jews” since the country’s founding.

He also attributes the poor results that the exit polls forecast for Blue and White to its “racist approach” toward the Joint List, apparently referring to Benny Gantz’s vows not to rely on their support to form a government amid claims by Prime Minister Netanyahu he would do so.

Netanyahu claims ‘huge victory for Israel’ after exit polls show Likud surge

Prime Minister Netanyahu cheers exit polls showing a surge in support for his Likud party and its partners as a “huge victory for Israel.”

His right-wing bloc is currently being forecast to come up with 60 seats, one seat short of a Knesset majority.

Liberman vows not to join Likud-led coalition of right-wing religious parties

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman says his party will uphold its campaign promises and will not join a Likud-led coalition of religious-right and ultra-Orthodox parties.

“We are a party of principles,” he says.

Liberman says his party is waiting for the actual tallies to come in before making final decisions, especially as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc appears to be teetering on the edge of a majority.

“Every seat matters, so we have to wait for the true results,” Liberman says, speaking onstage at his party’s headquarters in the city of Modi’in.

In the past year’s campaigns, Liberman has come out strongly against both the ultra-Orthodox parties and the national-religious parties, whom he refers to as “messianic.”

— Judah Ari Gross

In first reaction to exit polls, Gantz vows he’ll ‘continue to fight’

In his first reaction to exit polls showing Likud finishing well ahead of Blue and White, Benny Gantz thanks activists and voters who cast ballots for his centrist party.

“I’ll continue to fight for [our] way for you,” he writes on Twitter.

Shas leader Deri says rightist coalition is the priority, before adding others

Shas chairman Aryeh Deri celebrates the party’s nine-seat showing in exit polls.

“Blessed are You, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion,” says Deri at the opening of his remarks in front of hundreds of supporters after exit polls indicated a strong showing for his ultra-Orthodox party and right-wing bloc.

“Tomorrow, we right-wing faction heads will sit with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and we will carry out the will of the nation and immediately establish a coalition,” Deri continues. “This is what the nation decided today, and overwhelmingly so.”

Deri says he is willing to eventually include other non-traditional partners in the coalition but that the first priority is to immediately form a rightist-Haredi government.

“Our offering to God [for this victory] is that we will return tomorrow to the yeshivas and learn all the way through the Purim holiday,” he says to some tepid cheers from the crowd of young supporters.

— Jacob Magid

Likud supporters celebrate victory, vow to back Netanyahu against judiciary

At Likud’s election-day headquarters in Tel Aviv, Ron Nava, a young man and resident of the city waving two large Likud flags, says he expects to wake up with the right-wing bloc having grown to 62 or even 63 seats, enjoying a comfortable majority.

“Then we’ll establish a strong right-wing government that will respect the Land of Israel. That’s the most important thing,” he says, adding that he is convinced that Netanyahu will fulfill his promise to apply Israeli sovereignty over large parts of the West Bank.

But he is also worried that the Supreme Court could rule that Netanyahu cannot form the next government due to the fact that he is a defendant in three corruption cases, he says. “The court is known to be anti-Israel, anti-Jewish and anti-religious, I think it’s almost certain that they would disqualify him,” he says.

What would happen then?

“Then we’d have to overturn the country,” he responds coolly. “We’ll have to take to the streets and turn everything on its head. We voted for Netanyahu. We didn’t vote for the Supreme Court.”

Chaya Shimoni, a woman in her 70s from Bat Yam, agrees with this sentiment. “My mother taught me that a man is innocent until he is sentenced and sent to prison,” she says as she wraps herself in an Israeli flag. “If the Supreme Court can do whatever it wants, we might as well close everything, the Knesset, the government, everything. That’s not democracy anymore.”

“We’ve had enough of this leftist mafia,” she adds.

— Raphael Ahren

Turnout hits 71%, continuing steady rise since April race

The final turnout count when polls closed two hours ago, at 10 p.m., came to 71 percent, officials say, almost equal to 2015’s 71.8%.

It also marks a rise over the past 11 months, from April’s 67.9% to September’s 69.4%.

Labor-Gesher-Meretz head Peretz slams Blue and White for left’s poor showing

Labor-Gesher-Meretz leader MK Amir Peretz says his alliance’s poor showing of 6-7 seats in exit polls was due to Blue and White’s campaign that “turned on us.

“We knew the whole would end up less than its parts,” he tells party activists at the faction’s election-day headquarters.

“We acted out of responsibility to ensure a large bloc that had a chance to form a government and set us on a new path. We acted responsibly. We signed a vote-sharing agreement with Blue and White, and backed [leader] Benny Gantz completely.”

He adds: “But at critical moments [in the campaign, Blue and White] launched an irresponsible campaign against us.”

He insists, “We’re the peace camp, we’re the equality camp,” and vows to continue to fight for what the alliance believes in.

The left-wing faction’s complaint at Blue and White echoes the criticism of Arab Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh, who said earlier tonight, “We did our part, but Blue and White failed to do theirs.”

Netanyahu expected to speak in one hour

Netanyahu is expected to deliver his first public statement in front of party activists at Likud’s election-day headquarters at the Tel Aviv Expo at 1:30 a.m., party officials say.

23rd Knesset set to break record for elected women

The 23rd Knesset elected today may break the 2015 election’s record of 29 women voted in on election day.

(That Knesset reached 35 women by the end of 2018 because of turnover of sitting MKs, a record definitely not reached today.)

Exit polls show between 29 and 31 women elected today. The numbers break down by the following parties:

Likud: 11 women in the top 37 given in polls
Blue and White: 10 in the top 33
Joint List: 3 in the top 14, and 4 if it hits 15
Yisrael Beytenu: 1 in the top 8
Yamina: 1 in the top 6, 2 if it wins 7
Labor: 3 in the top 7

Haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism have no women on their lists as a matter of principle.

Why does it matter how many women make it in?

This is why.

Blue and White MK: Results ‘don’t look good, but too early to draw conclusions’

Blue and White MK Yoel Razvozov tells The Times of Israel, “It’s too early to reach conclusions” about the party’s next steps following exit polls showing Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud winning 36-37 seats, with Blue and White predicted to garner just 32-33.

“These are not final results. They don’t look good. But we will wait and see. We will be smarter when we know the final results,” he says, speaking at the party’s empty election night headquarters in Tel Aviv.

“We can’t speculate now. We need to take a breath and then act correctly,” he says.

Insisting that the party will not break up, Razvozov says, “We have one state and we need to fight for it. That’s why we came to politics.”

But asked if he was confident that none of its MKs would jump ship to the Likud, he only responded, “It’s too early to come to conclusions. We are still Blue and White. We will wait for the results and then move forward.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Palestinian envoy to UK: ‘Israeli voters rewarded hate’

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the United Kingdom, slams the apparent election results that show a likely narrow victory to Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Today Israeli voters rewarded hate, corruption & the promise to annex the occupied territories/continue denying the political rights of the Palestinian people. Here’s a fact for them: Apartheid didn’t work in South Africa & will not not work in Palestine,” Zomlot says in a tweet.

Hamas on election: Israel remains ‘an angry entity’ of ‘foreign settlers’

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassim seems unimpressed by Israel’s elections.

“The ‘state’ of occupation will remain an angry entity and its elections will not give it any legitimacy on Palestine’s land,” he says on Twitter.

“What is happening is a selection between foreign settlers to run a colonial entity based on the usurpation of Palestinian land and the expulsion of its original residents. Our people will continue its struggle until it achieves its goals in extracting its freedom, reclaiming its land and establishing its independent state with Jerusalem as its capital,” he says.

Updated exit polls reveal Netanyahu coalition set back to 59 seats

Channels 12 and 13 update their exit poll results to include the last two hours of voting — 8 p.m. till 10 p.m. — and deliver possible bad news to a triumphant Likud.

The new figures in both polls show a drop in Likud’s favored rightist-Haredi coalition from 60 to 59 seats, slightly further from the needed 61-seat majority.

Channel 13’s results:
Likud 37
Blue and White 34 – two more than the original results
Joint List 14
Shas 9
United Torah Judaism 7 – one less
Labor-Gesher-Meretz 7 – one more
Yisrael Beytenu 6 – two less
Yamina 6

Channel 12’s results:
Likud 37
Blue and White 32 – one less
Joint List 15 – one more
Shas 9
Yisrael Beytenu 7 – one more
United Torah Judaism 7
Labor-Gesher-Meretz 7
Yamina 6 – one less

Joint List celebrates updated exit poll giving it unprecedented 15 seats

The Joint List’s election headquarters in the northern city of Shfaram erupts in expressions of joy after Channel 12 updates its exit poll, giving the alliance of the four largest Arab-majority parties an unprecedented 15 seats in the Knesset.

Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh jumps out of his seat and throws his arms in the air in celebration.

— Adam Rasgon

Blue and White MK and former Netanyahu aid Hauser says results ‘indecisive’

Blue and White MK Zvi Hauser, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former cabinet secretary now running on the rival Blue and White list, tells The Times of Israel that reports he and fellow faction member MK Yoaz Hendel are considering jumping ship to support a Netanyahu-led government are “complete rubbish.”

“There is no truth to it whatsoever,” he says. “We are a union of three parties [making up Blue and White] that ran as a unit to present an alternative [to Likud]. We will continue to do that.”

Commenting on the projected election results, Hauser says, “they are not the best and not the worst. What is clear is that there is no decisive decision.”

Asked if he would prefer a fourth round of elections to joining a unity government with Likud, he says, “We don’t want a fourth election, but a properly functioning country cannot be run by someone who is in court on Monday and in the security cabinet on Tuesday,” a reference to Netanyahu’s upcoming corruption trial.

— Raoul Wootliff

Gantz: Results may be like April race – when Netanyahu couldn’t form gov’t

Benny Gantz speaks to supporters at the party’s election-day headquarters.

“We’re at the end of one of the worst election campaigns Israel has ever known,” he says. “I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the effort and work you invested.”

He acknowledges the disappointment in the party at lackluster exit poll results, saying, “I tell you honestly, I understand and share the feeling of disappointment and pain, it’s not what we wanted to happen. If these are the results, it’s not what will bring Israel to the right path.”

But, he adds, “there’s a half-full cup. A bit over a year ago we embarked on this journey, linked up our parties and our principles, and we won’t surrender either one.”

Bottom line, he says: Blue and White will not fall apart.

“This was the basest campaign in Israel’s history. Lies and slander were told about me. They thought I’d blink. But that didn’t happen, and it won’t happen.

“At the end of the day, the results may be identical in their political meaning to the results of April last year” — when Netanyahu couldn’t form a government.

“Then, when we went to the opposition we remained unified, strong and loyal to our path. I want to tell you that we will remain unified, strong and loyal to our path, because it’s a good path. We owe it to our voters to stick to our path.”

Or, in other words: We’re still in this fight, and we may still be able to force a unity government.

Updated Kan exit poll seems to confirm rightist coalition drop to 59 seats

The Kan public broadcaster also updates its exit poll to include the last two hours of voter responses.

The update also shows a slight decline in support for Netanyahu’s favored rightist-Haredi coalition, from 60 to 59 seats due to a loss of one seat for Yamina.

It’s a tiny numerical decline, but a significant political setback as it expands the gap Netanyahu must clear in the real results to reach his 61-seat majority.

The new results:
Likud: 36
Blue and White: 33
Joint List: 15
Shas: 9
United Torah Judaism: 8
Yamina: 6 – one less from the earlier poll
Labor-Gesher-Meretz: 6

Gantz declares Blue and White will oppose Netanyahu immunity efforts

In his speech, Benny Gantz seems to hold open the door to cooperation with a now-surging Likud, but also vows not to back any effort by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to legislate away his legal troubles via, for example, laws guaranteeing immunity for sitting premiers.

“I’ll tell what Israel needs now,” Gantz says, “it needs healing, unity, reconciliation, it longs for a unifying leadership. and we will continue to offer that to the Israeli public we have come to serve.”

He vows: “Regardless of the results of the election, criminal processes are decided only in the courtroom. In two weeks’ time, Benjamin Netanyahu will sit in a courtroom over serious crimes.”

He seems to switch from aggressive to conciliatory.

“We will be in the streets. We won’t let anyone destroy our country, we won’t let anyone divide us, dismantle Israeli society or crush our democracy,” he vows, but adds, “We respect those who voted for others. Blue and White has only just begun its path. We have a long road to walk yet.”

Netanyahu to speak on election results in 10 minutes

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to deliver his repeatedly delayed first public address about the election in 10 minutes, according to Channel 12.

The speech has already been delayed over two hours, so no guarantees that it won’t be delayed again.

Netanyahu arrives for address after exit polls show Likud surge

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gets up to speak.

Netanyahu walks on stage at Tel Aviv Expo

Netanyahu is about to speak. There are more Likud supporters at the Tel Aviv Expo space serving as Likud’s election-day headquarters than in the two previous rounds of elections, and they’re sticking around for Netanyahu’s victory speech.

But the hall is not full.

“The people have spoken,” Culture Minister Miri Regev declares, introducing Netanyahu as he walks on to the stage with his wife Sara, before some 250 party faithful.

— Raphael Ahren

Netanyahu hails ‘gigantic victory’

Netanyahu to Likud activists:

“We love you and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. This night is a gigantic victory.”

Netanyahu boasts of successful campaign ‘against all the odds’

Netanyahu: “We have new Members of Knesset. Welcome. We have expanded the Likud [Knesset] roster.”

He thanks the staff involved in the party’s new big-data operation with the Elector app.

“Suddenly Likud had data, look what a difference it made!”

And he insists the victory is his sweetest yet, because it came “against all the odds.”

“We have marched together many years. I remember our first victory in ’96, a historic victory. But this victory, this time, is bigger and sweeter still, because it’s a victory against all odds. We stood against vast forces, they already eulogized us. Our opponents said, ‘the Netanyahu era is over.’ But together we flipped the story. We turned lemons to lemonade.

“We traveled the country, north and south; what amazing fun to visit these gatherings. We met you, our citizens. Some of you, we had to convince, most were already convinced. Those we convinced were inspired by the truth. They gave us their trust. You know why? Because they know we brought the best decade in Israel’s history, in security, in the economy, in transportation, in education. We have turned Israel into a superpower.”

Netanyahu promises ‘strong national government’; says it’s time to heal rifts

Netanyahu says he has spoken to all of Likud’s natural coalition allies — the leaders of the Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yamina parties:

“Tomorrow, after we’ve got some sleep, we will meet [with right-wing leaders] to form a strong, stable government, a good national government for Israel.

“This was a great victory for the right-wing camp, and first and foremost a victory for us Likudnikim. But I want to say, I intend to be the prime minister of every citizen of Israel, every right-wing voter, left-wing voter, Jews and non-Jews, every sector and every gender.

“In this campaign we saw the challenge of corona — there wasn’t a day in which I didn’t make time for constant meetings on protecting all Israel’s citizens. That’s my mission as prime minister.

“We must avoid any more elections. It’s time to heal the rifts. It’s time for reconciliation.”

Netanyahu vows to fulfill annexation, Iran, economy promises

Amid the applause, Netanyahu is interrupted at one point by some shouts from the crowd of “Mandelblit go home,” a reference to the attorney general, who has indicted him in three graft cases. But in the speech itself, Netanyahu makes no mention of his legal difficulties.

Netanyahu lists a whole host of campaign promises, and vows, “We’re going to do it…and only we can do it.”

He mentions the promise to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, a “historic alliance” with the United States, peace with more Arab and Muslim nations, massive investment in education and “removing the Iranian threat.”

“We have developed connections that we never had with world leaders,” he says. “That includes many, many leaders, so many you can’t imagine, in the Arab and Muslim worlds. You saw Oman, Sudan, Chad, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan — and I’m telling you that’s the tip of the iceberg. When I say we will get a peace agreement with more Arab and Muslim countries, I’m not talking out of thin air.

“And only we can do it.”

He thanks his wife, noting that they are marking their 29th wedding anniversary.

He promises to secure Israel’s well-being “for generations.”

Pete Buttigieg endorses Joe Biden for president

WASHINGTON — Democrat Pete Buttigieg endorses Joe Biden for US president, providing a major boost to the former vice president’s White House hopes just one day after the former Indiana mayor himself dropped out of the race.

“I’m looking for a president who will draw out what is best in each of us, and I’m encouraging everybody who was part of my campaign to join me because we have found that leader in vice president, soon-to-be-president, Joe Biden,” Buttigieg says in Dallas, with Biden standing nearby.

The two centrists are former rivals in the Democratic nomination battle who are now united in their desire for a moderate candidate to beat leftist Senator Bernie Sanders, the current frontrunner in the race to face President Donald Trump in November.


China reports 125 new virus cases, lowest number in six weeks

BEIJING, China — China reports 125 new virus cases today, marking the lowest number of new daily infections in six weeks.

There were also 31 more deaths, the National Health Commission reports — all in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, raising the nationwide toll to 2,943.

The disease first emerged in December in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, before spreading to more than 60 countries. The number of cases in China has been generally declining after significant quarantine efforts, although the 11 new infections reported on Tuesday outside Hubei was the highest in five days.

In total, more than 80,000 people have been infected by the new coronavirus in mainland China.

Worldwide, close to 3,100 people have died of the illness.


Just 6.5% of vote counted by 3 a.m.; Likud firmly ahead

Just 6.5% of the ballots have been counted by 3 a.m.

The current figures give Netanyahu’s Likud a strong lead, picking up 32% of the vote compared to 23% for Blue and White.

Hebrew speakers can track the results here.

Nearly 9% of votes tallied; Likud retains wide lead

The Central Elections Committee says 8.9% of the votes (572,000 ballots) have now been counted.

Likud remains ahead with 31.4%, the equivalent of 37 Knesset seats.

Blue and White follows with 23.9%, or some 28 seats.

The Joint List is next with 11.6% (nearly 14 seats), followed by Shas (8.2%), Yisrael Beytenu (6.4%), United Torah Judaism (5.9%), Labor-Gesher-Meretz (5.9%), and Yamina (5.5%).

The count is expected to continue through Tuesday morning.

Netanyahu aide: Opposition MKs will defect to right to support coalition

Jonathan Urich, Netanyahu’s spokesperson, predicts that lawmakers from opposition parties will defect to join a right-wing government led by the Likud leader.

He makes the prediction in an early morning interview with Channel 12.

According to the network, Likud has already reached out to several prospective candidates believed to be willing to cross the aisle, including Blue and White MKs Yoaz Hendel, Zvi Hauser, Omer Yankelevich, and Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abekasis.

Hauser and Hendel have denied rumors they could jump ship.

Vote-counters said refusing to touch ballots cast by quarantined Israelis

Election officials are refusing to count the 4,076 ballots cast by Israelis who could be carrying the deadly coronavirus, according to reports.

The boxes of slips from the special polling stations where citizens under home quarantine were permitted to vote remain untouched, the reports say.

It remains unclear who will be responsible for counting these ballots, with Channel 12 saying medics could be tasked with the job.

Thousands of Israelis were ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days after returning from East Asian countries and Italy, areas where the COVID-19 virus has infected tens of thousands.

A voter at a special polling station for those quarantined due to possible exposure to the new coronavirus in Jerusalem, on March 2, 2020 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

This liveblog is closing, but live updates continue

A tumultuous and dramatic day and night come to an end, but events continue to develop as Israel finds itself in a nail-biting vote count that will determine whether Netanyahu can form a government or whether the year-long political deadlock is set to continue.

We are continuing our live coverage as the country wakes up to the aftermath of this turbulent campaign, and a new liveblog is running here. We’ll have all the real-time updates Tuesday from Israel’s election fallout, and all other developments.

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