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Death Toll From Suicide Bombing In Afghanistan Rises To 36

Volunteers carry an injured man on a stretcher to a hospital following the suicide bombing in Nangarhar on June 16.
Volunteers carry an injured man on a stretcher to a hospital following the suicide bombing in Nangarhar on June 16.

The death toll from a suicide bombing at a gathering of Afghan Taliban and government armed forces in the eastern province of Nangarhar has risen to 36, a local official said on June 17.

Najibullah Kamawal, director of the provincial health department, said another 65 people were wounded in the June 16 attack, which targeted fighters who were celebrating a three-day truce coinciding with Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that caps off the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for Nangarhar’s governor, told RFE/RL that some of those wounded were in critical condition.

Amaq, the news agency affiliated with Islamic State (IS), said the extremist group claimed responsibility for the attack.

Nangarhar Province is the main base of IS militants in Afghanistan. The group has clashed with the Taliban in the past.

The suicide bomber blew himself up at around the time President Ashraf Ghani was announcing an extension of the cease-fire with the Taliban and urged the militant group to extend its truce as well.

There was no immediate word from the Taliban on whether they would observe the extension.

However, the group banned its fighters from attending public gatherings, going into cities, and meeting with the Afghan public, as well as officials and security forces, during the cease-fire, according to a statement by the militants.

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that the move was aimed at avoiding harm to civilians.

In a 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 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 the head of UNAMA, said. "This opportunity cannot be missed."

Earlier on June 16, dozens of unarmed Taliban 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.

Reuters reported that Afghan Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak met Taliban fighters in the capital 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.

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 AP, Reuters, dpa, and AFP

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