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Israel votes in closely-fought general elections


Jerusalem:   Israelis on Tuesday cast their ballots in the high stakes general elections in which the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a record fifth term in office.

The polling stations opened at 7 a.m., and are scheduled to close at 10 p.m., reports Efe news.

There are 6.3 million eligible voters out of nearly 9 million Israelis. The number of eligible voters has risen by 8.1 per cent.

There are 120 parliamentary seats up for grabs. 

The election to form the country's 21st Knesset (Parliament) and the 35th government is a multi-cornered contest with representatives of some 40 parties in the fray.

However, the battle is widely seen as a race between the main contestants - Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, and Benny Gantz of the Kahol Lavan.

Gantz also leads a coalition of centrists, the Blue and White movement, which, according to a recent survey, is tipped to secure the most votes. The former general, whose centrist coalition poses a stiff challenge to Netanyahu, was one of the first ones to vote in the central city of Rosh Haayin.

Israeli authorities have ordered a general closure of the Gaza border crossings and the occupied territory of the West Bank until Tuesday midnight.

The closure of the Judea and Samaria (West Bank) and the crossings into Gaza, which has been under Israeli blockade since 2007, began Monday midnight, according to Israel's public broadcaster Kan.

The election day in Israel is a national holiday.

Israel's police is believed to have deployed 17,000 agents, border police and volunteers to maintain public order.

Israeli diplomats and embassy employees across Israeli missions were the first ones to vote along with soldiers for whom the voting took place on Sunday. Special polling centres were set up across several military bases of the country.

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