Afghan Taliban raise hopes with surprise Eid ceasefire
KABUL, (Reuters) - The Afghan Taliban on Saturday announced a surprise three-day ceasefire over the Muslim Eid holiday in the middle of June, their first offer of its kind, days after the government declared an unconditional ceasefire of its own.
The militants said foreign forces would be excluded from the ceasefire and that operations against them would continue. They also said they would defend themselves against any attack.
“Members of the Taliban should not participate in public gatherings during the Eid festivities because the enemy could target us,” they said in a statement.
The presidential palace welcomed the announcement and said it hoped it can lead to lasting peace. Omar Zakhilwal, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to neighbouring Pakistan, described the announcement as an “important step towards prospects for peace”.
“Hope the pleasure of shedding no Afghan blood in Eid becomes so overwhelming that rest of year is also declared as Afghan Eid,” he said on Twitter.
The Taliban attacked security outposts in the Zawul district of western Herat province on Friday night, killing 17 troops and wounding several, Jelani Farhad, spokesman for the provincial governor, said.
It was not clear exactly when the ceasefire would begin, as Eid starts when the moon is first sighted, but Afghan calendars mark Friday June 15 as the end of Ramadan.
Eid is the biggest festival in the Muslim calendar when families visit each other’s homes, enjoy feasting and in Afghanistan tend graves of fallen loved ones. The Taliban, seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster at the hands of U.S.-led troops, have launched attacks during Eid in the past.
“In three days, maybe the unity of Taliban insurgents will be put to test,” a European diplomat told Reuters. “If different factions don’t accept the ceasefire, then attacks will continue.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced an unconditional ceasefire with the Taliban on Thursday, until June 20, but excluding other militant groups, such as Islamic State.