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Fighting Resumes In Southern Afghanistan After Eid Cease-Fire

Violence has increased in Afghanistan as Western troops are starting to withdraw. (file photo)

Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan government forces resumed on May 16 in the restive southern province of Helmand, bringing an end to a three-day cease-fire that had been called during the Islamic religious festival of Eid al-Fitr.

The violence came despite a claim by Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen that Taliban and Afghan government negotiators met briefly a day earlier in Qatar and had renewed their commitment to try to find a peaceful end to the war.

Clashes that broke out on May 16 were on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province. That area has seen intense fighting since the United States and NATO began to withdraw their remaining troops from Afghanistan at the beginning of May.

"The fighting started early today and is still ongoing," Attaullah Afghan, head of the Helmand provincial council, told AFP.

Afghan authorities claimed Taliban militants had launched the attacks on security checkpoints on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah and other districts. An Afghan Army spokesman confirmed fighting had resumed.

But Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed that Afghan government forces "started the operation."

"Do not put the blame on us," Mujahid said.

The three-day cease-fire had been marred by several attacks, including a bombing in a mosque in Kabul on May 14 that killed 11 worshippers and the cleric leading prayers.

Islamic State (IS) extremists claimed responsibility for the mosque attack, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors websites of jihadist groups.

IS also claimed it blew up several electrical grid stations, leaving Kabul in darkness for much of the three-day holiday that follows the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Despite international mediation, an intra-Afghan peace initiative has stalled since talks began in Qatar last September between Afghanistan's Western-backed government and the Taliban.

With reporting by AFP and AP
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