Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party emerged as the largest faction in a hotly contested parliamentary election on Tuesday, positioning the hard-liner to serve a new term as prime minister, according to exit polls. But a lackluster performance by Likud, along with surprising gains by a centrist newcomer, raised the strong possibility that he will be forced to form a broad coalition.

The exit polls aired on Israel's three major TV stations all forecast Likud along with its traditional hardline and religious allies, capturing a shaky majority of just 61 or 62 seats in the 120-member parliament. With official results trickling in throughout the night, it was possible that the two sides could end in deadlock.

In a statement

posted on his Facebook page, Netanyahu said he would reach across the aisle and try to form a broad-based coalition.

"According to the exit polls, it is clear that Israel citizens decided that they want me to continue to serve as prime minister of Israel, and that I form the widest possible majority (coalition)," he said. "Already this evening I will begin working toward the widest possible government."

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