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Death toll rises in Afghan hospital blast
Maternity ward damaged and women and children among at least 38 killed and dozens injured in attack in Logar province.
Last Modified: 26 Jun 2011 04:02
Many of the victims of Saturday's bombing were women and children, the UN said [courtesy VOA]

Afghan officials have raised the death toll to 38 people following a suicide bomb attack at a hospital in Afghanistan.

The UN said the hospital's maternity ward was badly damaged in Saturday's blast, and many of the victims were women and children.

Dozens of people were also wounded, officials said. Estimates of the casualties, which included patients and medical staff, varied widely as chaos enveloped the facility in Azra district of eastern Logar province, which is just south of capital Kabul.

The bomber had been driving an "SUV packed with explosives," officials said.

"The target of the blast is not clear but what is obvious is that a hospital was attacked and civilians were killed ... The casualties are all patients, their visitors and relatives and hospital personnel," Deen Mohammad Darwish, a spokesman for the Logar provincial government, said.

Mohammad Zaref Nayebkhail, the provincial health director, said the death toll could be significantly higher than initial estimates as many people had come to the scene quickly after the blast and removed the bodies of their relatives.

President Hamid Karzai and his government strongly condemned the attack.

"Our health centres are not the place of political and military activities and our staff do not engage in political activities," said Dr Soraya Daleel, Afghanistan's minister of public health.

"This is an inhumane action and we condemn it," she said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied responsibility for the attack. "We condemn this attack on a hospital ... whoever has done this wants to defame the Taliban," he said.

Counterterrorism summit

Saturday's attack came as Afghan President Hamid Karzai told a counterterrorism summit in Iran that despite his government's efforts, extremist violence was on the rise in both his country and the region.

"Unfortunately, despite all the achievements in the fields of education, infrastructure and reconstruction, not only has Afghanistan not yet achieved peace and security, but terrorism is expanding and threatening more than ever Afghanistan and the region," he told the opening session.

The UN says 76 per cent of civilian casualties in 2010 were caused by anti-government fighters

On Friday, 10 people were killed by a bicycle bomb, which went off in a busy bazaar in Khad Abad district of the northern province of Kunduz.

Earlier this week, US President Barack Obama announced that 33,000 US forces would leave Afghanistan by the end of next summer.

All foreign combat forces are due to pull out of the country by the end of 2014. There are currently up to 150,000 foreign forces in Afghanistan, including around 99,000 from the US.

Some analysts fear that Afghan security forces may struggle to contain violence, which has reached record levels, as withdrawals start to get under way.

Nearly 2,800 civilians were killed in Afghanistan last year, according to the UN.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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