Netanyahu 'to form coalition in weeks'

JERUSALEM - Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu has said he hopes to form a new governing coalition within two or three weeks after securing a surprise win in elections.

His Likud party comfortably beat the centre-left Zionist Union, despite exit polls forecasting a dead heat.

Mr Netanyahu has not yet been asked to form a government, but his win makes it likely he will be given first opportunity.

He said he would not allow the creation of a Palestinian state if re-elected.

The day after his dramatic victory, Mr Netanyahu said prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one of Judaism's holiest sites.

"I appreciate the decision by Israel's citizens to elect me and my friends, against all odds and in the face of powerful forces and I will do everything I can to care for the security and welfare of all Israelis," he said.

The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, said he would work with any Israeli government that accepts the two-state solution, without which, he said, peace negotiations stood "no chance".

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip, said it was irrelevant who won the Israeli elections.

"We don't differentiate between Israeli parties because they are bound to deny our people's rights and continue the aggression on us," he said.

The EU and UN have both said they expect Israel to continue with the Middle East peace process, despite Mr Netanyahu ruling out a Palestinian state during a fourth term.

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