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At Least 15 Children Killed As Bomb Blows Up At Religious Gathering

Afghan security officials stand guard at a roadside checkpoint on the outskirts of Ghazni on December 18.

Afghan officials say at least 15 children were killed and 20 other people wounded when a bomb explosion hit a religious gathering in central Afghanistan.

The bomb went off after a man driving a motorized rickshaw entered a village in Gilan district of Ghazni Province to sell goods and was soon surrounded by kids, Wahidullah Jumazada, spokesman for the Ghazni provincial governor, said on December 18.

Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian earlier said the group had gathered for a Koran recitation.

There was no initial claim of responsibility, but a spokesman for the provincial police force, Ahmad Khan Seerat, described the blast as a Taliban attack.

A spokesman for the militant group, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed that the explosion was caused by the remains of unexploded ordinance in the area, which the children allegedly brought to the man driving the rickshaw.

The incident comes with peace talks in the Qatari capital between Taliban militants and the Afghan government to end decades of war stalled until January.

Those negotiations began 10 months after a deal between U.S. and Taliban negotiators in February cleared the way for a prison swap and the direct intra-Afghan talks.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has called for the next round of peace negotiations to be held in Kabul instead of "luxurious hotels."

The United States' top general met earlier this week with Taliban officials in Qatar before heading to Afghanistan for senior meetings in an effort to kick-start the stalled talks and urge a reduction in violence as efforts continue to end a nearly 20-year-long conflict.

“The most important part of the discussions that I had with both the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan was the need for an immediate reduction in violence,” U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army General Mark Milley told reporters accompanying him to Qatar and Afghanistan. "Everything else hinges on that.”

The Taliban has continued its attacks on Afghan and international targets inside Afghanistan, and demands an end to U.S. air strikes that for the past 10 months are supposed to be limited to support for Afghan forces.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP
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