International

Israel will hold unprecedented third election in a year

Israel will hold its third general election in less than a year after a deadline was missed for any lawmaker to form a majority coalition.

MPs are now expected to set the election date for 2 March.

Ahead of the midnight (22:00 GMT) deadline, they gave initial approval to a bill to dissolve parliament.

Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main rival, Benny Gantz, failed in their own attempts following September's inconclusive election.

The two leaders also could not agree on a power-sharing arrangement.

In September, Mr Gantz's centrist Blue and White alliance won 33 seats in the 120-member Knesset, while Mr Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party got 32 seats.

With neither party able to build a coalition that could command a 61-seat majority, President Reuven Rivlin called on them to form a national unity government.

But power-sharing talks broke down over who would serve as prime minister first; Mr Netanyahu's insistence that ultra-Orthodox parties allied to him be included; and Mr Gantz's refusal to serve under a prime minister facing criminal charges.

Last month, Israel's attorney general charged with Mr Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three cases. The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing and described the charges as an "attempted coup", blaming them on a "tainted" process.

Mr Netanyahu has not yet announced whether he will ask parliament to grant him immunity from prosecution, but he is widely expected to do so.

On Tuesday night, Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz reiterated that they were willing to form a national unity government and avoid another election.

Mr Gantz said his party was making "efforts to find a way to form a government without us giving up the fundamental principles that brought us into politics".

Mr Netanyahu told his rival: "After 80 days, it's time that for one day, for the citizens of Israel, we sit and have a serious discussion about forming a broad unity government. It's not too late."