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Taliban calling truce for holiday

Even as pause declared, violence clouds Afghanistan’s future by The Associated Press | May 11, 2021 at 2:00 a.m.
Afghans pray during the funeral of victims of deadly bombings on Saturday near a school, at a cemetery west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 9, 2021. The Interior Ministry said Sunday the death toll in the horrific bombing at the entrance to a girls' school in the Afghan capital has soared to some 50 people, many of them pupils between 11 and 15 years old, and the number of wounded in Saturday's attack has also climbed to more than 100. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Taliban on Monday announced a three-day cease-fire this week for the Eid-al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The cease-fire is to begin either Wednesday or Thursday. The Muslim calendar follows lunar cycles, and the Eid holiday depends on the sighting of the new moon.

Just hours after the pending cease-fire was announced, a bus in southern Zabul province struck a roadside mine, killing 11 people, said Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian. At least 24 people on the bus were injured. Improvised explosive devices litter the countryside and have been used extensively by the Taliban.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said fighters have been ordered to stop all offensives, "to provide a peaceful and secure atmosphere to our compatriots ... so that they may celebrate this joyous occasion with a greater peace of mind."

The cease-fire announcement comes amid heightened violence in the country and follows an attack on a girls school Saturday that killed as many as 60 people, most of them students between 11 and 15 years old.

The death toll from the three explosions continues to climb.

The Taliban denied any responsibility and condemned the attack, which occurred in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi in the west of the capital, Kabul.

Attacks in the area are most often claimed by the Afghan Islamic State affiliate, but no group has claimed the attack on the school.

The Afghan government has not yet responded to the cease-fire announcement.

The announcement also comes as the U.S. and NATO are withdrawing the last of their military forces. The final 2,500-3,500 American soldiers and roughly 7,000 allied NATO forces will leave by Sept. 11.

With the departure of foreign troops just a few months away, European governments are still trying to work out what kind of diplomatic presence they will keep in Afghanistan and who will provide security for them. They are particularly reluctant to be perceived as abandoning the country.

Germany's Defense Ministry has suggested that a July 4 withdrawal might be in the cards.

"After the terrible attacks of recent days, it is all the more important for the EU to make very clear that Afghanistan and the Afghan government can continue to count on Europe's support," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Brussels.

"We will continue to make available sufficient funding for civilian reconstruction, and we will do everything we can so that the ongoing peace negotiations reach a conclusion," Maas said. However, peace talks between the divided Afghan government and the Taliban appear to be going nowhere.

The U.S. has warned of battlefield gains for the Taliban, and officials in Washington say Afghan government forces face an uncertain future against the insurgents as the withdrawal accelerates in the coming weeks.

It all raises security concerns for the Europeans that weigh heavily as they debate how to help Afghan civilians, including many who have helped international forces, agencies and nongovernmental organizations during almost 20 years of conflict.

"The decision has been taken, and what we have to do is to face the situation that is going to be created," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Thursday. "The violence in Afghanistan is increasing, and it's clear that once the U.S. will withdraw, the European Union troops will not be able to stay."

"We better face the future and to try to take positive decisions in order to face reality," Borrell said.

Part of that reality could be a return of the Taliban as the dominant force.

No matter who is in control in the future, Maas said Monday, the EU "will always point out to those in charge in Afghanistan that the aid we make available is tied to the things that have been achieved in the past 20 years -- regarding the building of the state, regarding women's rights, regarding education -- not being sacrificed. That is the precondition."

Information for this article was contributed by Lorne Cook and Geir Moulson of The Associated Press.

Afghans go through belongings left behind after deadly bombings on Saturday near a school in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 9, 2021. The Interior Ministry said the death toll in the horrific bombing at the entrance to a girls' school in the Afghan capital has soared to some 50 people, many of them pupils between 11 and 15 years old, and the number of wounded in Saturday's attack has also climbed to more than 100. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
Afghans go through belongings left behind after deadly bombings on Saturday near a school in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 9, 2021. The Interior Ministry said the death toll in the horrific bombing at the entrance to a girls' school in the Afghan capital has soared to some 50 people, many of them pupils between 11 and 15 years old, and the number of wounded in Saturday's attack has also climbed to more than 100. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
Afghan men bury a victim of deadly bombings on Saturday near a school, at a cemetery west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 9, 2021. The Interior Ministry said Sunday the death toll in the horrific bombing at the entrance to a girls' school in the Afghan capital has soared to some 50 people, many of them pupils between 11 and 15 years old, and the number of wounded in Saturday's attack has also climbed to more than 100. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
Afghan men bury a victim of deadly bombings on Saturday near a school, at a cemetery west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 9, 2021. The Interior Ministry said Sunday the death toll in the horrific bombing at the entrance to a girls' school in the Afghan capital has soared to some 50 people, many of them pupils between 11 and 15 years old, and the number of wounded in Saturday's attack has also climbed to more than 100. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
A man cries over the body of a victim of deadly bombings on Saturday near a school, at a cemetery west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 9, 2021. The Interior Ministry said Sunday the death toll in the horrific bombing at the entrance to a girls' school in the Afghan capital has soared to some 50 people, many of them pupils between 11 and 15 years old, and the number of wounded in Saturday's attack has also climbed to more than 100. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
A man cries over the body of a victim of deadly bombings on Saturday near a school, at a cemetery west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 9, 2021. The Interior Ministry said Sunday the death toll in the horrific bombing at the entrance to a girls' school in the Afghan capital has soared to some 50 people, many of them pupils between 11 and 15 years old, and the number of wounded in Saturday's attack has also climbed to more than 100. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
Afghans go through belongings left behind after deadly bombings on Saturday near a school, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 9, 2021. The Interior Ministry said the death toll in the horrific bombing at the entrance to a girls' school in the Afghan capital has soared to some 50 people, many of them pupils between 11 and 15 years old, and the number of wounded in Saturday's attack has also climbed to more than 100. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
Afghans go through belongings left behind after deadly bombings on Saturday near a school, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 9, 2021. The Interior Ministry said the death toll in the horrific bombing at the entrance to a girls' school in the Afghan capital has soared to some 50 people, many of them pupils between 11 and 15 years old, and the number of wounded in Saturday's attack has also climbed to more than 100. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
Afghan men bury a victim of bombings on Saturday near a school, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 9, 2021. The Interior Ministry said the death toll in the horrific bombing at the entrance to a girls' school in the Afghan capital has soared to some 50 people, many of them pupils between 11 and 15 years old, and the number of wounded in Saturday's attack has also climbed to more than 100. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
Afghan men bury a victim of bombings on Saturday near a school, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 9, 2021. The Interior Ministry said the death toll in the horrific bombing at the entrance to a girls' school in the Afghan capital has soared to some 50 people, many of them pupils between 11 and 15 years old, and the number of wounded in Saturday's attack has also climbed to more than 100. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
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