Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, has won another term as leader of the ruling Likud party in the run-up to a snap election, easily defeating his lone hard-right challenger.

General elections had been due in Israel in late 2017, but they were brought forward by Netanyahu in early December after the collapse of his coalition.

Netanyahu, who has been in power since 2009, will seek to win a third straight term in office and a fourth in total. He served a first stint as prime minister between 1996 and 1999.

The results of the ballot clear the way for Netanyahu to lead Likud into battle for the March 17 election.

"With nearly 60 percent of the ballots counted, Benjamin Netanyahu took 80 percent of the vote and Danny Danon 20 percent," Noga Katz, Likud spokesperson, said.

Final results were due out later on Thursday.

Likud's 96,651 members also voted to determine front runners on the party list, with 70 candidates in the running.

An interim count suggested the line-up was largely a reshuffle of the 18 faces who served in the outgoing government.

In a speech at the Likud's headquarters in Tel Aviv on Thursday, Netanyahu described the vote as a success, saying the party had chosen an "excellent list" that would help him win re-election.

"It is a list of a governing party that can continue to lead Israel ... that will help us defeat the left under Tzipi [Livni] and Bujie [Isaac Herzog], a winning team that will help me return and continue to lead Israel in security, with responsibility in the spirit of the true Likud," Netanyahu said.

Source: Agencies