JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will take over the defence portfolio in his government after Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned this week, a spokesman for his Likud Party said on Friday, fuelling speculation of an early election.
Earlier Netanyahu met with key coalition partner Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party who had sought the post for himself, but the two men emerged without an agreement.
Netanyahu's right-wing coalition government was rocked by Lieberman's resignation on Wednesday in protest at a ceasefire reached between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
After Bennett and Netanyahu's meeting, a spokesman for the PM's Likud Party said that for now Netanyahu would take over the defence portfolio himself.
The premier had called for "every effort to preserve the right-wing government" and to prevent the left from getting into power, the spokesman said.
A source close to Bennett said that after his meeting with Netanyahu "it became clear ... there was a need to go to elections as soon as possible with no possibility of continuing the current government."
Israeli media reported that other coalition partners would oppose Bennett, who leads an ultra-nationalist, religious party, becoming defence minister.
An early election date would be decided on Sunday, the source said.
Israel is scheduled to hold a general election next November.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Raissa Kasolowsky)