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Suicide Attack Kills At Least 25 Amid Afghan Cease-Fire With Taliban


Taliban militants stand with residents as they took to the street to celebrate the cease-fire on the second day of Eid in the outskirts of Jalalabad on June 16.

Afghan officials say a suicide bomber has killed at least 25 people in the eastern province of Nangarhar by blowing himself up at a gathering of Taliban and government armed forces marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan with a cease-fire.

The deadly blast on June 16, which Islamic State (IS) militants claimed responsibility for, occurred around the time Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was announcing an extension of the cease-fire with the Taliban and urged the militant group to extend its cease-fire as well.

Afghanistan's High Peace Council, established to oversee the peace process, said early on June 17 that it will hold a news conference beginning at 10 a.m. It did not immediately provide details.

Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the Nangarhar governor, told RFE/RL that at least 54 others were also injured in the explosion. Some of those were in critical condition, Khogyani said, adding that it was not clear how many Taliban members were killed or injured.

"Unfortunately, about 20 people -- including civilians and Afghan Taliban members who were celebrating a cease-fire -- were killed in the attack and around 16 other people were injured," Khogyani said.

The IS-affiliated news agency Amaq said the extremist group had claimed responsibility for the attack. Nangarhar Province is the main base of IS militants in Afghanistan.

The Taliban, which had announced a surprise three-day cease-fire over the Eid-al-Fitr holiday, denied responsibility.

In a June 16 televised address announcing an extension of the government’s cease-fire, Ghani said he was prepared to discuss Taliban demands, including the status of foreign forces in Afghanistan in the future.

"I order the security forces to remain on their defensive positions," Ghani said, adding that details of the extension would be released later.

The government's truce, which started on June 12 and excludes the IS extremist group and Al-Qaeda, had been set to end on June 19.

Ghani also urged the Taliban to extend its three-day cease-fire, which was set to end on June 17.

"During the cease-fire, we will provide medical assistance to the wounded Taliban, and will provide them any humanitarian assistance if needed," Ghani said on Twitter. "Taliban prisoners will also be allowed to contact and see their families."

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed Ghani's speech, saying peace negotiations would require a discussion of what role "international actors and forces" play in Afghanistan.

"The United States is prepared to support, facilitate, and participate in these discussions," Pompeo said in a statement.

"The United States 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," Pompeo added.

The United Nations Assistance Mission In Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a June 16 statement that it "commends" the Afghan government and the Taliban "for honoring the cease-fires" and "welcomes" Ghani's announcement on extending the truce beyond Eid.

The extension of the cease-fire "provides a clear opportunity for initiating a negotiated solution to the conflict," Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, said. "This opportunity cannot be missed."

Earlier in the day, dozens of unarmed Taliban fighters entered the Afghan capital to celebrate Eid.

"A number of Taliban members who handed over their weapons at the entrances of Kabul have entered the city," Kabul police spokesman Hashmatollah Stanikzai told RFE/RL on June 16.

Reuters reported that Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak met Taliban fighters in Kabul on June 15 as the two sides marked the Eid cease-fire.

Meanwhile, videos and photos posted on news sites and social media showed soldiers and Taliban greeting and hugging each other and taking selfies in several provinces.

A spokesman with the Afghan Defense Ministry told RFE/RL that Afghan security forces and Taliban members had exchanged Eid greetings in Ghazni, Logar, Farah, and other provinces.

Deputy Interior Minister Masood Azizi told AFP that both sides had so far respected the cease-fire.

Governors in Helmand, Kandahar, and Zabul said both sides had adhered to the cease-fire and that there had been no reports of violence for 24 hours.

Some Afghan citizens have been calling on the Afghan government and the Taliban to extend the unprecedented cease-fire.

Despite more aggressive military operations against the Taliban under a new approach adopted by U.S. President Donald Trump last year, the Taliban still holds large swaths of the country.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, and AFP