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Suicide Attack 'Kills At Least 20' Amid Afghan Cease-Fire With Taliban

Volunteers carry an injured man on a stretcher to a hospital following a suicide bomb attack in Jalalabad on June 16.
Volunteers carry an injured man on a stretcher to a hospital following a suicide bomb attack in Jalalabad on June 16.

Afghan officials say a suicide bomber has killed at least 20 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 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.

Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the Nangarhar governor, told RFE/RL that some 16 people were also injured in the explosion.

"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 Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attack, its Amaq news agency said. 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 on 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 that 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.

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