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Friday November 27th, 2020 8:23AM

Mortar shells hit Kabul residential areas; at least 8 dead

By The Associated Press
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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — About 23 mortar shells slammed into different parts of the Afghan capital on Saturday, killing at least eight people and wounding 31 others, an official said.

The shells were fired from two cars, Interior Ministry spokesperson Tariq Arian said. No one took immediate responsibility for the early morning attack that also targeted the posh Wazir Akbar Khan area of Kabul, which houses diplomatic missions.

At least one rocket landed in the Iranian Embassy compound. In a tweet, Iran's embassy in Kabul in confirmed that a rocket came down in the courtyard of the embassy compound and “a number of shrapnel” hit the embassy's main building, causing some damage to windows and equipment, without specifying the equipment.

“Fortunately the incident has no casualty and all the staff are in good health,” said the tweet.

The Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan claimed the rocket barrage, according to SITE Intelligence Group. The IS group has carried out similar attacks in the past and claimed responsibility for recent assaults in Kabul including two devastating attacks on educational institutions that killed more than 50 people, many of them students.

As well as insurgent groups, there are several heavily armed warlords with militias living in Kabul with long-standing animosities against each other.

Pakistan, whose Prime Minister Imran Khan visited on Tuesday Kabul for the first time since he came to office, condemned the attack and warned “it is important to be vigilant against the spoilers who are working to undermine the peace efforts.” He did not identify “the spoilers.”

The mortar barrage comes as representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban continued to hold talks in Qatar, though progress has been slow. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Doha on Saturday to press for a reduction in violence in his meetings with both Taliban and government negotiating teams. The Taliban have mostly ignored such previous requests.

Pompeo met with 11 members of the Afghan government team as well as with the Taliban's co-founder, Mulllah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

There are many within the Afghan government who want February's U.S.-Taliban peace deal scrapped. President-elect Joe Biden has previously advocated a small, intelligence based force in Afghanistan to focus on counter-terrorism.

Meanwhile, Abdullah Abdullah, head of the government's High Council for Reconciliation, condemned the attack in a tweet calling it a “cowardly” act. The council oversees the government's negotiating team at the table with the Taliban in Doha.

Hours before the attack rattled Kabul, a bomb attached to a car killed one security personnel and wounded three others in an eastern neighborhood of the capital, said Kabul police spokesperson Ferdaws Faramarz.

Violence in Afghanistan has spiked in recent months with increasingly horrific attacks often claimed by the Islamic State group affiliate. The Taliban have also continued near daily assaults on beleaguered Afghan government forces.

There have been increasing calls for a cease-fire if peace talks are to continue. The Taliban have been steadfast in their refusal, demanding that any truce be part of the negotiations.

_______________

Associated Press Writer Kathy Gannon contributed to this report from Islamabad.

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