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Taliban rule out extension of Afghanistan Eid festival ceasefire

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The Afghan Taliban have rejected calls to extend a three-day ceasefire declared for the Muslim Eid festival.

A spokesman said the truce would end on Sunday night and operations against the security forces would resume.

Government officials urged the militants not to return to fighting, as dozens of unarmed Taliban exchanged Eid greetings with soldiers and civilians.

Meanwhile, at least 18 people were killed in a suicide attack in the city of Jalalabad, officials said.

The blast happened outside the office of the governor of Nangarhar province while officials were meeting Taliban insurgents as part of the ceasefire. Dozens were injured.

On Saturday a suicide attack in the same province, also on a gathering of Taliban and local officials, left 36 people dead. The Islamic State group said it carried out that attack.

What have the Taliban said?

The militants said there would be no extension to the ceasefire and fighters would be expected to leave government-controlled areas before sunset.

“The ceasefire ends tonight and our operations will begin, God willing. We have no intention to extend the ceasefire,” said spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

He made no reference to an announcement by President Ashraf Ghani extending a unilateral ceasefire by the government and urging the Taliban to do the same.

What happened over the holiday?

In extraordinary scenes during Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan on Saturday, militants embraced security force members and took selfies with citizens.

Both sides had declared a three-day truce for the occasion.

In his announcement on Saturday, President Ghani appealed to the militants to follow the government’s lead and enter peace talks.

During the ceasefire, Taliban militants were able to receive medical and humanitarian assistance and Taliban prisoners could see their families, he added.

The government also released some Taliban prisoners, he said.

How did the ceasefire come about?

The Taliban announced the three-day halt to hostilities earlier this month, days after a unilateral ceasefire lasting until Wednesday was ordered by the government.

It is the Taliban’s first ceasefire since the government they ran was toppled by the 2001 US-led invasion.

“It was the most peaceful Eid. For the first time we felt safe. It is hard to describe the joy,” said Qais Liwal, a student in Zabul in southern Afghanistan.

In February Mr Ghani offered peace talks “without preconditions” and recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political group if they respected the rule of law.

Tens of thousands of Afghans have been killed since the US-led invasion drove the Taliban from power in 2001.

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