Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he would ask President Reuven Rivlin for more time to form a new coalition government, citing recent holidays and the Gaza flare-up. Netanyahu's Likud won 35 seats in the April 9 general election, with most party chiefs represented in the 120-seat parliament recommending that he forms the next governing coalition.
On April 17 Rivlin formally tasked him with the mission, which by law needs to be completed within 28 days -- although a 14-day extension is automatically granted upon request. "As in past instances of forming a government, I intend on asking an extension from the president," Netanyahu said in the opening remarks of the weekly cabinet meeting.
"Such an extension is not only acceptable but also required due to scheduling problems," he said citing a busy holiday season, including Passover and Israeli Independence Day, as well as the Gaza flare-up. On May 4, militants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip fired hundreds of rockets at Israel, prompting the army to strike dozens of targets inside the blockaded coastal enclave in response.
Four Israeli civilians and 25 Palestinians, including at least nine militants, were killed in the two-day flare-up, which ended on Monday in a tentative truce. Netanyahu has been conducting low-intensity meetings with heads of the parties expected to join his coalition.
It is expected to include the 16 members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, the far-right national religious union, Avigdor Lieberman's nationalistic Israel Beitenu and the centre-right Kulanu. Netanyahu's lawyers were meanwhile negotiating with the justice ministry when the premier's pre-trial hearings would take place.
The attorney general announced in February his intention to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust -- pending a hearing. Netanyahu is not required to resign if indicted, only if convicted with all appeals exhausted.
(With inputs from agencies.)