Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday
Above, Afghan security forces escort suspected Taliban fighters in Herat on February 2, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 11 May 2021

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday
  • The cease-fire would begin on either Wednesday or Thursday
  • The Afghan government has not yet responded to the Taliban announcement

KABUL: The Taliban on Monday declared a three-day ceasefire for the upcoming Eid Al-Fitr holiday this week amid an uptick in violence across Afghanistan and as Washington ramps up its withdrawal of remaining troops from the country.

In a Twitter statement, Taliban Spokesman Mohammed Naeem wrote that “all Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate are instructed to halt all offensive operations against the enemy countrywide from the first till the third day of Eid. But if the enemy conducts any assault or attack [against] you during these three days, stand ready to robustly protect and defend yourselves and your territory.”

Hours after the Taliban’s announcement, President Ashraf Ghani instructed all Afghan forces to observe the three-day Eid ceasefire as well. However, he reiterated that the Taliban’s violence had “no legitimacy” as international troops were leaving Afghanistan. He also called for a permanent ceasefire in the country.

Kabul has long insisted on a long-term and nationwide ceasefire ahead of peace talks with the Taliban to end a protracted conflict with Washington by recalling all foreign troops by Sept. 11 — the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers in the US — based on a directive issued by President Joe Biden in April.

Initially, all foreign troops were expected to exit the country by May 1 — the original deadline set by the Taliban before signing a landmark deal with Washington in Doha, Qatar, more than a year ago.

The Taliban have blamed Washington for violating the key condition of the Doha accord, which also pushes Kabul and the Taliban to hold talks and draw a political roadmap for a future government in Afghanistan.

Based on the deal — which also required the Taliban to cut ties with Al-Qaeda and other militants and to not use Afghan soil to launch attacks on any other country, including the US — the insurgents had halted attacks on foreign troops, but not on Afghan forces.

So far, the Taliban have refused to agree to a permanent truce but said that they could be a key part of US-sponsored talks, which have faced a deadlock since they were first launched in Doha last year.

Fraidoon Khwazoon, a spokesman for Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, which heads the Afghan peace process, said that the Taliban’s call for a three-day ceasefire was a “good opportunity” to boost the peace process.

FASTFACT

Kabul has long insisted on a long-term and nationwide ceasefire ahead of peace talks with the Taliban to end a protracted conflict, with Washington by recalling all foreign troops by Sept. 11.

“We have hailed this, and the ceasefire is a demand of the people of Afghanistan too. We hope that this will be used as a good opportunity for a permanent and nationwide ceasefire and a continuation of talks,” he told Arab News.

Eid Al-Fitr marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and, based on the sighting of the new moon, is expected to begin in Afghanistan on Wednesday.

Under the ceasefire guidelines, the Taliban will avoid visiting cities in government-held areas. During the truce observed in 2018, when both sides announced a ceasefire, hundreds of Taliban fighters visited various cities, including Kabul, to meet relatives and partake in the Eid festivities.

However, the latest announcement for a ceasefire follows weeks of clashes between the Taliban and government forces, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of men from both sides, including dozens of civilians.

While the Taliban have halted attacks on US-led troops based on the accord signed with Washington in Doha, there has been an increase in assaults on government forces, with both sides blaming each other for the escalation in violence.

“The latest fighting damaged the Taliban’s image a lot, with people across the country calling for a permanent ceasefire,” Wahidullah Ghazikhail, a political analyst based in Kabul, told Arab News.

“To repair that damage, the Taliban pre-empted the government and are trying to show to the people that they want peace and stability, and announcing ceasefire is a good example of it,” he added.

The three-day ceasefire comes two days after bombings outside a school in the western part of Kabul killed at least 68, mostly students, and injured more than 165 others.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet, even as President Ghani accused the Taliban of staging the attack.

Taliban insurgents, who have been fighting to overthrow the Afghan government since their ouster by US-led forces in late 2001, have denied involvement in the bombings, accusing Daesh of perpetrating the attacks instead.


159 people unaccounted for after Florida building collapse

159 people unaccounted for after Florida building collapse
Updated 55 min 23 sec ago

159 people unaccounted for after Florida building collapse

159 people unaccounted for after Florida building collapse
  • Mayor Daniella Levine Cava: ‘We do have 120 people now accounted for, which is very, very good news. But our unaccounted for number has gone up to 159’

SURFSIDE, United States: The number of people unaccounted for following the collapse of a Florida apartment block has risen to 159, the county’s mayor said Friday.
“We do have 120 people now accounted for, which is very, very good news. But our unaccounted for number has gone up to 159,” Miami-Dade County mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a news conference.
Authorities have stressed it is still unclear how many people were inside the building when it pancaked in the early hours of Thursday, killing at least four people.


Macron says EU discussion about Russia summit idea was long, difficult

Macron says EU discussion about Russia summit idea was long, difficult
Updated 25 June 2021

Macron says EU discussion about Russia summit idea was long, difficult

Macron says EU discussion about Russia summit idea was long, difficult
  • The meeting proposed by Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel
  • EU summits with Russia ended after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March 2014 and the West imposed sanctions

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron defended on Friday a failed attempt by France and Germany to hold an EU summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, after eastern European leaders shot down the initiative they said would send the wrong message to Moscow.
The meeting proposed by Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which have both sought to take a less confrontational attitude with Russia in recent years, fractured EU leaders gathered in Brussels along an old East-West divide.
“There was no consensus for a quick summit. It’s no tragedy in my view,” Macron said. “The most important thing is to remain united. Divisions weaken us,” Macron told a news conference.
“The aberration today is that we’re the toughest power vis-a-vis Russia, despite the fact they’re our neighbor,” he said, adding that fellow EU leaders had not expressed the same objections when US President Joe Biden met Putin.
“We saw President Biden meeting President Putin a few weeks ago. I told my friends around the table: he didn’t ask for your opinion. And you see them meeting together and that’s not shocking to you. We’re the odd ones,” Macron said.
EU summits with Russia ended after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March 2014 and the West imposed sanctions.
While Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Italy’s Mario Draghi said they supported the Franco-German proposal, many other leaders were opposed.
Latvia’s Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said the EU risked rewarding Russia with a summit even though diplomacy has failed to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine with Russian-backed separatists.
“I have no obsession with a summit with the 27 (leaders),” Macron said. “I’ll be frank, I don’t need an EU summit to see Vladimir Putin. I saw him several times as president and I’ll continue to see him.”


Taliban’s actions inconsistent with pursuit of peace in Afghanistan, says Blinken

Taliban’s actions inconsistent with pursuit of peace in Afghanistan, says Blinken
Updated 25 June 2021

Taliban’s actions inconsistent with pursuit of peace in Afghanistan, says Blinken

Taliban’s actions inconsistent with pursuit of peace in Afghanistan, says Blinken
  • ‘Actions that try to take the country by force, of course, are totally inconsistent with finding a peaceful resolution’

PARIS: The Taliban’s actions in Afghanistan are totally inconsistent with the pursuit of a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the country, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday during a visit to Paris.
“We’re looking very carefully at the situation on the ground in Afghanistan and were also looking very hard whether the Taliban is at all serious about peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Blinken told a joint news conference with his French counterpart.
“Actions that try to take the country by force, of course, are totally inconsistent with finding a peaceful resolution,” Blinken added.


US, France warn Iran that time running out to revive deal

US, France warn Iran that time running out to revive deal
Updated 25 June 2021

US, France warn Iran that time running out to revive deal

US, France warn Iran that time running out to revive deal
  • The Biden administration says it is ready to lift economic measures related to nuclear work as laid out by the JCPOA
  • Analysts have said Iran could strike a deal before Raisi takes office in August

PARIS: The United States and France on Friday warned Iran that time was running out to return to a nuclear deal, voicing fear that Tehran’s sensitive atomic activities could advance if talks drag on.
On the first high-level visit to Paris by President Joe Biden’s administration, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his French hosts saluted a new spirit of cooperation after four years of turbulence under Donald Trump.
But the two sides said that one key Biden promise — to return to the 2015 accord on the Iranian nuclear program that was trashed by Trump — was at risk if the clerical regime does not make concessions during talks that have been going on for months in Vienna.
Blinken warned that the United States still had “serious differences” with Iran, which has kept negotiating since last week’s presidential election won by hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi.
“There will come a point, yes, where it will be very hard to return back to the standards set by the JCPOA,” Blinken told reporters, using the formal name of the accord.
“We haven’t reached that point — I can’t put a date on it — but it’s something that we’re conscious of.”
Blinken warned that if Iran “continues to spin ever more sophisticated centrifuges” and steps up uranium enrichment, it will bring nearer the “breakout” time at which it will be dangerously close to the ability to develop a nuclear bomb.
But Blinken said that Biden still supported a return to the accord, under which Iran had drastically scaled back its nuclear work until Trump withdrew in 2018 and imposed crippling sanctions.
“We have a national interest in trying to put the nuclear problem back in the box that it was in the JCPOA,” Blinken said.
France — which like Britain, Germany, Russia and China had stayed in the 2015 accord despite pressure from Trump — also ramped up pressure on Iran to move ahead.
“We expect the Iranian authorities to take the final decisions — no doubt difficult ones — which will allow the negotiations to be concluded,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at the joint news conference with Blinken.
Talks have stalled in part over Iran’s insistence on the lifting of all sanctions, pointing to the promises of economic relief under the accord.
The Biden administration says it is ready to lift economic measures related to nuclear work as laid out by the JCPOA — but that it will keep other sanctions, including over human rights and Iran’s support to militant movements in the Arab world.
Some experts believe that Iran had been waiting for the election of Raisi, whose hard-line approach is backed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate arbiter of the Islamic republic’s foreign policy.
Analysts have said Iran could strike a deal before Raisi takes office in August — letting him take the credit for the expected economic boost but blame outgoing president Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who championed a better relationship with the West, if the situation deteriorates.
Blinken, who was raised in Paris, saluted the alliance with France and sprinkled his remarks with fluent French, in a sharp change of tone after the sometimes abrasive “America First” approach of the Trump administration.
“My dear Tony, I’m really very happy to welcome you to Paris,” Le Drian said as he welcomed Blinken in an ornate room of the Quai d’Orsay, the French foreign ministry.
“It’s expected that you would visit Paris because you’re at home here. I would even be tempted to say, welcome home!“
Blinken is on a European tour that also took him to Germany and will continue in Italy, just after Biden visited the continent.
The administration is looking to solidify relations with Europeans in the face of growing challenges from a rising China and an assertive Russia.
On hotspots of strategic importance to the French, Blinken also promised solidarity on tackling extremism in the Sahel and a united front on troubled Lebanon.
“We have decided to act together to put pressure on those responsible. We know who they are,” Le Drian said of Lebanon which is engulfed in twin economic and political crises.
Blinken added: “We need to see real leadership in Beirut.”


Moscow coronavirus deaths hit record as Russian COVID-19 case surge continues

Moscow coronavirus deaths hit record as Russian COVID-19 case surge continues
Updated 25 June 2021

Moscow coronavirus deaths hit record as Russian COVID-19 case surge continues

Moscow coronavirus deaths hit record as Russian COVID-19 case surge continues
  • Officials have scrambled to compel people to get inoculated amid tepid demand for the vaccine since cases began surging this month

MOSCOW: Russia on Friday reported a record number of deaths linked to COVID-19 in Moscow, amid a surge in infections that authorities blame on the Delta variant and the slow progress of a vaccination program.
Officials have scrambled to compel people to get inoculated amid tepid demand for the vaccine since cases began surging this month.
The government coronavirus task force reported 20,393 new COVID-19 cases, including 7,916 in Moscow, the most confirmed in a single day since Jan. 24, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 5,409,088.
It said 601 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes in the past 24 hours, with 98 in the capital, pushing the national death toll to 132,064. St. Petersburg also reported 98 deaths.
The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has said Russia recorded around 270,000 deaths related to COVID-19 from April 2020 to April 2021.
Moscow’s authorities have ordered bars and restaurants from Monday to serve people only if they can present a QR-code showing they have been vaccinated, had an infection indicating immunity or recently tested negative.
As demand for the shots boomed, the Kremlin said on Friday vaccine shortages in Russia were also linked to storage difficulties, and that shortages would be resolved in the coming days.
The local health ministry in Russia’s far eastern Khabarovsk region on Friday said it had been forced to suspend vaccinations at some sites in two cities due to shortages.