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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

Afghan bomber kills 21, mostly Taliban celebrating truce

The explosion came as unarmed Taliban fighters celebrated Eid alongside Afghan security forces

One of the injured at a hospital in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, after the suicide bomb attack on Saturday, June 16, in Rodat district, eastern Nangarhar, which killed 21. Ghulamullah Habibi / EPA
One of the injured at a hospital in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, after the suicide bomb attack on Saturday, June 16, in Rodat district, eastern Nangarhar, which killed 21. Ghulamullah Habibi / EPA

A suicide bomber blew himself up in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing 21 people and wounding 41, most of them believed to be Taliban fighters who had gathered to celebrate a three-day ceasefire for Eid Al Fitr, a police official said.

Nangarhar provincial Police Chief Ghulam Sanayee Stanikzai said the explosion took place amid previously unthinkable scenes of unarmed Taliban fighters celebrating Eid alongside Afghan security forces, as a ceasefire took place in cities throughout the country on Friday and Saturday.

Within hours of the explosion, President Ashraf Ghani announced he would extend the nine-day ceasefire that was to due to end on Sunday, which he announced last week. The ceasefire was to finish at the end of the Eid holiday.

Mr Ghani did not say how long the extension would be. The Taliban's leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, on Monday separately announced a three-day truce to mark Eid. The Taliban ceasefire took effect at midnight on Thursday.

In announcing the extension, Mr Ghani called on the Taliban to reply in kind. He said a ceasefire could be accompanied by visits to Taliban prisoners and treatment for fighters at hospitals in Afghanistan.

Mr Ghani also repeated his promise that everything could be on the negotiation table, including the presence of foreign forces.

Earlier this week Taliban leader Akhundzada said he wanted direct talks with the United States before engaging in negotiations with the Afghan government. There was no immediate Taliban reply to Mr Ghani's latest offer of an extension.

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On Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed Mr Ghani's offer of an extension to the ceasefire, adding that the US "stands ready to work with the Afghan government, the Taliban, and all the people of Afghanistan to reach a peace agreement and political settlement that brings a permanent end to this war".

While no one has yet claimed responsibility for the explosion on Saturday in the Rodat district of eastern Nangarhar province, an ISIS affiliate has a strong presence in the area. ISIS fighters have previously clashed with the Taliban, who have rejected their demands for a caliphate.

Meanwhile, Atta Ul Rahman Salim, deputy head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, said Taliban fighters from across the country were entering into government-controlled areas to visit their families "and they were being welcomed by government security forces".

In eastern Logar province, dozens of Taliban roared through the provincial capital of Pul-e-Alam on motorcycles, some of the vehicles festooned with the Afghan flag. Provincial police spokesman Shahpur Ahmadzai told Associated Press that the Taliban were unarmed and no one was allowed into the city with weapons.

Abdullah Faizani, a Taliban fighter from Logar's Baraki district, said it had been seven years since he had visited the provincial capital.

Although he wanted an extended ceasefire, he said he would not lay down his weapons permanently until "all the foreign troops leave Afghanistan".

In northern Kunduz province, doctor Abdul Majid said up to 2,000 Taliban were seen celebrating in the city, many of them with family and friends but also several were seen celebrating with Afghan security forces.

"We are feeling that these days are golden days for us, it is so peaceful," said Dr Majid.

In southern Kandahar, Haji Gulalai said: "I'm so happy for the ceasefire in Afghanistan, and I am hoping peace forever."

In Afghanistan's northern Baghlan province, Asadullah Shabaz, head of the provincial council, said unarmed Taliban joined in prayers at a local mosque.

"We are all just so tired of war," he said.