Hezbollah's chief Hassan Nasrallah on Monday acknowledged the defeat of his opposition alliance by a pro-Western coaltion in Lebanon's parliamentary elections as Western powers welcomed the news of the March 14 win.
"We accept the official results in a sporting spirit," he said in a televised address a day after Lebanese turned out in masses to vote in the crucial elections.
Nasrallah denied claims that his Shiite resistance group would use violence to force a win but stressed that the group's weapons and artillery were not up for discussion by the new parliament.
Nasrallah, appearing graceful in defeat, also congratulated his political rivals. "I would like to congratulate all those who won, those in the majority and those in the opposition," he said.
"We accept the fact that the competition won a majority while the opposition retained its presence in parliament," Nasrallah said.
Analysts and newspapers questioned whether rival factions would be able to form a unity government and ensure the nation, plagued for years by political and sectarian turmoil, is not plunged into renewed violence.
Some analysts expected lengthy horse-trading between and within rival blocs before the next cabinet is formed.
We accept the official results in a sporting spirit
Saad Hariri, head of the March 14 camp, has previously said the opposition could join a unity government, but without the veto power it has demanded in the past and achieved under a Qatari-mediated deal that followed an armed showdown in the streets of Beirut in May 2008.
Hezbollah, labeled by the United States as a terrorist organization, sees veto rights as vital to fend off any challenge to its status as an armed group resisting Israel.
Israel launched a devastating war against Hezbollah in 2006 that left much of south Lebanon in ruins and killed more than 1,200 people, mainly Lebanese civilians, as well as 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers.
Meanwhile world powers were pleased with the outcome that dealt a blow to the Shiite group.
American President Barack Obama welcomed news of the March 14 victory. "It is our sincere hope that the next government will continue along the path towards building a sovereign, independent and stable Lebanon," he said
Obama, however, warned that a "government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion."
The president, fresh off a trip to Egypt where he addressed the Muslim world, congratulated the Lebanese people on the outcome of the elections, and vowed the United States "would continue to support a sovereign and independent Lebanon, committed to peace, including the full implementation of all United Nations Security Council Resolutions."
It is our sincere hope that the next government will continue along the path towards building a sovereign, independent and stable Lebanon
France, another backer of the bloc, praised the "smooth functioning" of the election.
A 100-strong European Union observer mission concluded in a statement that the vote had been contested "in a polarized but generally peaceful environment within an improved legal framework which nevertheless needs further reform."
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center was also observing the election, said the results were "fairly accurate as a judgment of the will of the people." "There will always be some violations," he added at a news conference.
Michael Williams, the U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon, said the formation of the new cabinet would take time, adding that it could take several weeks after the designation of the new prime minister. "It will take time and it has done always in previous Lebanese experiences," he said.
Earlier in the day as prelimenary results emerged, Israel's foreign ministry said that the new government in Lebanon must act to prevent attacks from its territory.
"It is incumbent upon any government that is formed in Beirut to ensure that Lebanon will not be used as a base for violence against the state of Israel and against Israelis," a ministry statement said.
"The government of Lebanon must act to strengthen the country's stability and security, to stop arms smuggling into its territory and to implement the relevant Security Council resolutions," it said.
"Israel considers the Lebanese government responsible for any military or otherwise hostile activity that emanates from its territory."
It is incumbent upon any government that is formed in Beirut to ensure that Lebanon will not be used as a base for violence against the state of Israel and against Israelis
Israeli foreign ministry