KABUL -- A three-day cease-fire proposed by the Taliban and agreed by the Afghan government has gone into effect in Afghanistan just hours after a suspected car bomb killed numerous people preparing for the Eid al-Adha holiday.
The two foes earlier this week announced the halt in hostilities for the Muslim festival starting on July 31, raising hopes that the long-delayed intra-Afghan peace talks could begin next week.
But on the eve of the 72-hour cease-fire, at least nine people were killed in the explosion in Pul-e-Alam, capital of eastern Logar Province.
The bomb went off in the central Azadi (Liberty) Square in the city, which was packed with people shopping for Eid celebrations, according to local officials and eyewitnesses.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that all the victims were civilians, with many women and children among the dead. It said nine people had been killed and 40 more were injured but noted that these figures were provisional. Some reports said as many as 18 people were killed.
Provincial police spokesman Shahpoor Ahmadzai said the attack had targeted a police checkpoint and that there were security forces among the victims. Government forces have gathered in the city to prepare for security measures ahead of the Eid celebrations, Ahmadzai said.
He said the civilian casualties were mainly in cars that had stopped at a checkpoint.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. The Taliban denied involvement.
Interior Ministry spokesman Tarek Arian, however, said the militant group “certainly cannot claim it is not behind such incidents."
The cease-fire was announced on July 28. It comes as the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, is trying to revive peace talks with visits to Pakistan and the Afghan capital, as well as in Qatar, where the Taliban maintains a political office.
Khalilzad welcomed the announcement of the cease-fire, saying on Twitter on July 29 that the U.S. hope is that “this Eid brings all Afghans together in understanding & mutual respect and one step closer to a sustainable peace."
The United States and Taliban struck an agreement in February intended to pave the way for intra-Afghan peace talks between the militants and the U.S.-backed government in Kabul to end years of war.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said July 28 that peace talks with the Taliban could begin "in a week's time,” following a prisoner exchange.