Dozens die in mar­ket blasts in south­ern Afghanista­n

Arab News - - News Internatio­nal - Sayed Salahud­din Kabul

At least 23 civil­ians were killed on Mon­day when a se­ries of ex­plo­sions went off in a cat­tle mar­ket in Afghanista­n’s south­ern province of Hel­mand, in what was one of the blood­i­est in­ci­dents against civil­ians in re­cent months.

Afghan se­cu­rity forces and the Tal­iban blamed each other for the at­tack in San­gin district, an area un­der the in­sur­gents’ con­trol. While the Tal­iban ac­cused gov­ern­ment troops of fir­ing mor­tars that killed civil­ians, the army blamed the Tal­iban for blow­ing up ex­plo­sives at the site. Some res­i­dents con­firmed the Tal­iban ac­count, al­leg­ing the at­tack was car­ried out by the army.

Videos cir­cu­lat­ing on so­cial me­dia showed that the ca­su­al­ties in­cluded chil­dren.

A bearded man point­ing to­ward two bod­ies said they were his brother and nephew, and nei­ther of them were Tal­iban. He was heard say­ing that the at­tack was con­ducted by gov­ern­ment forces. Ital­ian-run hos­pi­tal Emer­gency re­ported re­ceiv­ing 19 bod­ies, three of them chil­dren who suc­cumbed to their in­juries while be­ing rushed to the clinic.

In a state­ment is­sued by his of­fice, Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani con­demned the at­tack and called on the Tal­iban to give up vi­o­lence and be­gin ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Peace talks be­tween the in­sur­gents and the gov­ern­ment were orig­i­nally set for early March, but did not take place as Kabul ini­tially re­fused to ac­cept the Tal­iban’s con­di­tion of re­leas­ing the group’s im­pris­oned fight­ers.

Both sides have freed hun­dreds of each other’s pris­on­ers in re­cent months amid hopes of start­ing the peace process in June. Of­fi­cials now ex­pect the ne­go­ti­a­tions will be held some­time in July, pos­si­bly in Qatar.

The talks should come amid a phased with­drawal of US-led troops from Afghanista­n. In ac­cor­dance with an agree­ment the Tal­iban signed with the US in late Fe­bru­ary, all for­eign sol­diers should leave the coun­try by next spring.

Fol­low­ing the US deal, the Tal­iban halted at­tacks on for­eign troops but stepped up at­tacks on gov­ern­ment forces.

Hun­dreds of Tal­iban and Afghan troops have died, as civil­ians con­tinue to suf­fer from the on­go­ing war.

AP

Afghans carry the body of a man who was killed dur­ing a deadly at­tack, in the south­ern Hel­mand province, Mon­day.

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