AFP - Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Monday acknowledged his opposition alliance's election defeat and called for the rival camps in divided Lebanon to put the polls behind them in an era of cooperation.
"We accept the official results in a sporting spirit," he said in a televised address a day after the election.
Nasrallah, appearing graceful in defeat, congratulated his political rivals in a Western-backed parliamentary majority. "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.
The Western-backed coalition of Sunni, Christian and Druze parties landed 71 seats in the 128-member parliament against 57 for Hezbollah and its Shiite and Christian allies, Interior Minister Ziad Baroud announced earlier.
Hezbollah, who is backed by Iran and Syria, fielded 11 candidates in the race, all of whom won seats.
Nasrallah, whose allies have been demanding veto rights in any new cabinet, declined to discuss the formation of a new government, saying it "needs consultations with all the members of the opposition."
But he said the rival camps must cooperate to build Lebanon.
"Let us be honest with one another in order to build our country, develop our country together and end the endemic crises it has faced," the Hezbollah chief said. "We should learn from the past."
Nasrallah criticised those who during the electoral campaign suggested that Hezbollah would win thanks to its formidable weapons arsenal, saying it was one of the pre-election "lies."
"People voted freely and we did not see these arms at all," Nasrallah said. "Let us now put the election campaign behind us."
Hezbollah's arsenal has been a thorn in the side of the outgoing national unity government and at the centre of a three-year-old national dialogue to define a defence strategy for Lebanon.
Israel and Hezbollah waged a devastating war 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.
The militant group has since refused to disarm despite a post-war UN resolution that calls for all militias in Lebanon to turn in their weapons. It argues that its arsenal is needed to defend the country against Israel.
Earlier Monday, senior Hezbollah official Mohamed Raad said the group's weapons were not up for discussion.
"The majority must commit not to question our role as a resistance party, the legitimacy of our weapons arsenal and the fact that Israel is an enemy state," Raad, an MP who kept his seat in parliament, told AFP.
Nasrallah, whose speech was followed by a brief spurt of celebratory gunfire heard around Beirut, termed the election a "breakthrough," and thanked the army and security forces for having kept the peace.