More than 20 dead in Afghan attacks ahead of planned peace talks

More than 20 people, including civilians and police, died in separate attacks in Afghanistan, officials said on Saturday. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 June 2020

More than 20 dead in Afghan attacks ahead of planned peace talks

  • A police official blamed the Taliban for the attack
  • On Friday, a bomb explosion inside a mosque in Kabul, killed at least four people

KABUL: More than 20 people, including civilians and police, died in separate attacks in Afghanistan, officials said on Saturday, days ahead of the first round of crucial intra-Afghan talks on June 15 aimed at finding ways to end a protracted war in the country.

In one of the attacks, a group of Taliban insurgents stormed a police post overnight and killed 10 officers in an area of the central Ghor province, Atta Mohammad Dehqanpur, a lawmaker from the province told Arab News.

“The Taliban were armed with small and heavy weapons and opened fire as some of the police were asleep,” Dehqanpur said.

Interior Ministry spokesman in Kabul, Tariq Aryan, confirmed the reports but told Arab News that there was no specific number of casualties.

“We have had contradictory figures on deaths. The Taliban had attacked the police post, and both sides have suffered casualties,” he said.

In the second attack, a commander for one of the factions, Abdul Wali Ekhlas, and seven of his friends were gunned down in an ambush in the southeastern Khost province, a spokesman for Khost’s police, Adel Haidar, told reporters in a message.

The motive behind the overnight attack against Ekhlas was not immediately clear, Aryan said.

In the third incident, which also took place last night, a woman and three members of her family were killed by unknown gunmen at their home in Logar province, which lies to the south of Kabul.

The Taliban, whose delegates are set to initiate peace talks with politicians, including members of President Ashraf Ghani’s government in the coming days, has not commented on the attacks. However, officials have not blamed the Taliban for the Khost and Logar violence.

Earlier on Saturday, a spokesman for Ghani’s national security adviser, Javid Faisal, accused the Taliban of killing 89 civilians and wounding 150 others in the past two weeks alone.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, described Faisal’s comments as “propaganda of the enemy” and instead blamed Kabul for killing civilians in its attack.

Despite efforts from both sides to initiate talks in the coming days, Taliban fighters and government forces have conducted attacks against each other in recent months, and affiliates of Daesh have also unleashed a series of attacks.

Daesh accepted responsibility for a bomb explosion, which occurred on Friday inside a mosque in the capital, Kabul, killing at least four worshippers, including the prayer leader.

It followed the killing of another prominent cleric in another mosque in Kabul some 10 days ago, in an attack also claimed by Daesh.

Unlike the past attacks perpetrated by Daesh, which mostly targeted Shiite mosques, both the clerics were Sunnis.

Observers believe that even if the Taliban and Kabul reach a settlement, peace will not be completely restored in Afghanistan and Daesh’s followers may continue their attacks.

“The overnight attacks may not have much impact on the talks and we do not know if all of them were conducted by the Taliban,” Shafiq Haqpal, an analyst, told Arab News.

“Both sides seem ready to initiate the talks and even if they succeed that may not be the end of the war in Afghanistan as Daesh is still active here,” he said.

The Taliban and the US inked a historical deal in Qatar at the end of February this year which pushes for a total withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by next spring, with the Taliban pledging to cut ties with Al- Qaeda and other militants and not allow them to use their territory against any country, including US interests.

The government and the Taliban have exchanged prisoners in recent weeks, a condition set by the Taliban ahead of starting talks with Kabul.

Afghan officials in recent days have said that the first round of talks with the Taliban might happen online because of the coronavirus outbreak, or that they will possibly meet face-to-face in Qatar.

WHO acknowledges ‘evidence emerging’ of airborne spread of COVID-19

Updated 6 min 45 sec ago

WHO acknowledges ‘evidence emerging’ of airborne spread of COVID-19

  • WHO previously said the virus spreads through droplets expelled from the nose and mouth that quickly sink to the ground
  • New evidence shows floating virus particles can infect people who breathe them in

GENEVA: The World Health Organization on Tuesday acknowledged “evidence emerging” of the airborne spread of the novel coronavirus, after a group of scientists urged the global body to update its guidance on how the respiratory disease passes between people.
“We have been talking about the possibility of airborne transmission and aerosol transmission as one of the modes of transmission of COVID-19,” Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on the COVID-19 pandemic at the WHO, told a news briefing.
The WHO has previously said the virus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease spreads primarily through small droplets expelled from the nose and mouth of an infected person that quickly sink to the ground.
But in an open letter to the Geneva-based agency, published on Monday in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal, 239 scientists in 32 countries outlined evidence that they say shows floating virus particles can infect people who breathe them in.
Because those smaller exhaled particles can linger in the air, the scientists are urging WHO to update its guidance.
Speaking at Tuesday’s briefing in Geneva, Benedetta Allegranzi, the WHO’s technical lead for infection prevention and control, said there was evidence emerging of airborne transmission of the coronavirus, but that it was not definitive.
.”..The possibility of airborne transmission in public settings — especially in very specific conditions, crowded, closed, poorly ventilated settings that have been described, cannot be ruled out,” she said.
“However, the evidence needs to be gathered and interpreted, and we continue to support this.”
Any change in the WHO’s assessment of risk of transmission could affect its current advice on keeping 1-meter (3.3 feet) of physical distancing. Governments, which rely on the agency for guidance policy, may also have to adjust public health measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.
Van Kerkhove said the WHO would publish a scientific brief summarising the state of knowledge on modes of transmission of the virus in the coming days.
“A comprehensive package of interventions is required to be able to stop transmission,” she said.
“This includes not only physical distancing, it includes the use of masks where appropriate in certain settings, specifically where you can’t do physical distancing and especially for health care workers.”