Death toll from attack on Kabul maternity clinic rises to 24

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Babies lie in their beds at the Ataturk Children's Hospital a day after they were rescued following a deadly attack on another maternity hospital, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (AP)
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Newborn babies lie in their cribs at the Ataturk Children's Hospital a day after being rescued from another maternity hospital following a deadly attack, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (AP)
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A newborn baby is cared for at the Ataturk Children's Hospital a day after being rescued from a deadly attack on another maternity hospital, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 13 May 2020

Death toll from attack on Kabul maternity clinic rises to 24

  • Militants stormed a maternity hospital in Dashti Barchi

KABUL: Afghan officials on Wednesday raised the death toll from a militant attack on a maternity hospital in Kabul the previous day, saying that 24 people were killed, including two newborn babies, their mothers and an unspecified number of nurses.
Militants stormed the hospital in Dashti Barchi, a mostly Shiite neighborhood in the western part of Kabul, on Tuesday morning, setting off an hours-long shootout with the police. As the battle raged, Afghan security forces struggled to evacuate the facility, which is supported by the aid group Doctors Without Borders, carrying out babies and frantic young mothers.
The Interior Ministry spokesman, Tareq Arian, said on Tuesday that 16 people were killed in the attack and over 100 women and babies were evacuated from the building under fire. The new death toll of 24 came from Wahid Majroh, the deputy public health minister, who spoke at a press conference on Wednesday. He said 16 were wounded in the attack.
Of those evacuated, 21 newborn babies were initially brought to Kabul’s Ataturk Hospital where physician Sayed Fared said their staff were providing medical care.
“One newborn baby had a fractured bone and we referred that baby to the Indira Gandhi Children’s hospital,” he told The Associated Press. “The other 20 babies are hospitalized here and are in good health and under our observation.”
Outside the Ataturk Hospital, anxious relatives waited for news.
Qurban Ali, a 27-year-old father, came to see his newborn daughter Bakhtawar who was among those evacuated from Dashti Barchi. His name was on a wristband the baby was given after she was born early Tuesday, a preterm baby.
Ali said he was watching TV when he heard about the hospital attack.
“I immediately rushed to the hospital, got there but couldn’t find my wife or the baby,” he said. His wife called him a short while later, crying and saying she had managed to flee from the attack but couldn’t recuse their baby. The two rushed to Ataturk Hospital after hearing the babies were evacuated there, and to their relief, found Bakhtawar.
“Thank God ... my child and my wife both are unhurt,” said Ali.
But others were not so fortunate. The family of 35-year-old nurse Maryam Noorzada who worked with Doctors Without Borders, also known by their French acronym MSF, at Dashti Barchi could not find her after searching all of Kabul hospitals.
Her brother-in-law, Mahdi Jafari, his eyes filled with tears, told the AP that the family would give DNA samples to see if the single charred, unclaimed body remaining at the morgue after the attack was her.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Taliban insisted they were not involved. In the past, most attacks in Dashti Barchi, home to the minority Shiite Hazara community, were carried out by the Daesh group.
In a televised speech hours after the attack, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced that Afghan security forces would no longer operate in the defensive posture taken in the wake of the peace agreement. Instead, he called on security forces to launch attacks against Taliban insurgents.
“The Taliban have not given up fighting and killing Afghans, instead they have increased their attacks on our countrymen and public places,” despite repeated calls for a cease-fire, Ghani said.
In recent months, Afghan and American officials say the Daesh affiliate in Afghanistan has been weakened as a result of relentless US bombing raids in the group’s stronghold — eastern Nangarhar province — as well as military operations by Afghan security forces and attacks by IS rivals, Taliban insurgents.
In a separate attack Tuesday, a suicide bomber targeted the funeral in Khewa district of a local pro-government militia commander and former warlord who had died of a heart attack Monday night, killing 32 people and wounding 133, according to Zahir Adil, spokesman for the province’s public health department. Earlier reports had 24 dead and 68 wounded in the bombing.
The dead included Abdullah Lala Jan, a provincial council member, while his father Noor Agha, a lawmaker, was wounded in the attack. The Daesh group claimed responsibility for the Nangarhar bombing in a statement posted late Tuesday on its media arm, Aamaq.


Taliban rule out cease-fire until it is agreed in talks

Updated 12 August 2020

Taliban rule out cease-fire until it is agreed in talks

  • President Ghani’s order to release 400 hardcore Taliban prisoners opens way for negotiations

KABUL: The Taliban have rejected calls for a truce before the long-awaited talks with the government get underway. They said that the possibility of a cease-fire could be debated only during the talks.

“When our prisoners are released, we will be ready for the talks,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News on Tuesday.

“A cease-fire or reduction of violence can be among the items in the agenda of the talks,” he said.

This follows President Ashraf Ghani signing a decree for the release of 400 hardcore Taliban prisoners on Monday — who Kabul said were responsible for some of the worst attacks in the country in recent years — thereby removing the last obstacle to the start of the negotiations set by the Taliban.

However, Kabul has yet to announce the date of their release.

Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for the government-appointed peace council, said that Doha, Qatar, would be the likely venue.

“Deliberations are continuing, and no decision has been made on a firm date yet,” he said.

Ghani pledged to release the prisoners after the Loya Jirga, or traditional assembly, voiced support for their freedom.

After three days of deliberations the Jirga, which comprises 3,400 delegates, said that its decision was for the sake of “the cessation of bloodshed” and to remove “the obstacle to peace talks.”

After the Jirga’s announcement, Ghani said that “the ball was now in the Taliban’s court” and that they needed to enforce a nationwide cease-fire and begin talks to bring an end to more than 40 years of war, particularly the latest chapter in a conflict that started with the Taliban’s ousting from power in the US-led invasion in late 2001.

The exchange of prisoners between the government and the Taliban was part of a deal signed between the insurgent group and the US in Doha in February
this year.

The prisoner swap program — involving the release of 5,000 Taliban inmates in return for 1,000 security forces held by the group — was to be completed within 10 days in early March, followed by the crucial intra-Afghan talks.

February’s deal between the Taliban emissaries and US delegates, led by the US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, came after 18 months of intensive and secret talks, amid growing public frustration in the US about the Afghan war — America’s longest in history.

Ghani, whose government was sidelined from the February accord, initially voiced his opposition to freeing the Taliban inmates.

However, faced with increasing pressure from the US, Kabul began releasing 4,600 prisoners in a phased manner.

The intra-Afghan talks are also crucial for US President Donald Trump, who is standing for reelection in November and is keen to use the pull-out of forces and the start of negotiations as examples of his successful foreign policy. However, experts say the next stage will not be easy.

Analyst and former journalist Taj Mohammad told Arab News: “The talks will be a long, complicated process, with lots of ups and downs. It took 18 months for the Taliban and US to agree on two points; the withdrawal of all US troops and the Taliban pledging to cut ties with militant groups such as Al-Qaeda. Now, imagine, how long it will take for the completion of a very complicated process of talks between Afghans who will debate women’s rights, minorities rights, election, Islamic values, … the form of government and so on.”

For some ordinary Afghans on the streets, however, the planned talks have revived hopes for peace and security and “are more needed in Afghanistan than in any other country.”

“I am more optimistic now than in the past. All sides have realized they cannot win by force and may have decided to rise to the occasion and come together,” Fateh Shah, a 45-year-old civil servant from Kabul, said.

Others spoke of their dreams to “go back home.”

“I have been away from my village for 19 years, and as soon as peace comes, we will pack up and go there,” said Rasool Dad, a 50-year-old porter who lives as a war-displaced person in Kabul, talking of his desire to return to his birthplace in southern Helmand province.

However, 30-year-old banker Sharif Amiri wasn’t very optimistic about the future.

“Even if the talks turn out to be successful, that will not mean an end to the war or the restoration of security. There are spoilers in the region, at home and at an international level who will try to sabotage peace here,” he said, hinting at rivalries among countries in the region, including major powers such as Russia, China and the US, who have used Afghanistan as a direct and indirect battleground for years.