Khairullah Khairkhwa, from the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, discusses efforts to reach political reconciliation.
The death toll from a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Afghanistan’s capital has risen to 24, officials have said, with many of the victims being teenage students.
Fifty-seven people were wounded after the attacker detonated explosives in the street outside the Kawsar-e Danish centre in Kabul on Saturday evening.
Most of the victims were students aged between 15 and 26, according to the health ministry.
Witness Ali Reza said the blast threw him off his feet.
“I was standing about 100 metres (328 feet) from the centre when a big blast knocked me down,” said Reza, who had gone to hospital with his cousin, who was wounded in the attack.
“Dust and smoke were all around me. All those killed and wounded were students who wanted to enter the centre.”
ISIL (ISIS) claimed responsibility in a statement on Telegram, without providing evidence. A Taliban spokesman denied involvement.
The attack, which was condemned by NATO and the Afghan government, took place in an area of western Kabul that is home to many members of the country’s Shia community, a religious minority in Afghanistan targeted in the past by ISIL.
In May, a group of attackers launched a brazen daylight attack on a maternity hospital in western Kabul that left several mothers dead. The assailants were shot dead after hours of fighting with security forces.
The United States blamed ISIL for that attack.
In 2018, another attack on another education centre in the same area of Kabul, killed dozens of students.
Searching for loved ones
Following Saturday’s attack, family members gathered at a nearby hospital, searching for missing loved ones among bags containing the remains of those killed, laid out on the hospital floor.
“All the victims are teenage boys and girls, between 17 to 18 years old. We took the dead bodies and wounded victims to hospital by Kabul ambulance. All the victims are young boys and girls,” Rohullah, an eyewitness, told The Associated Press news agency.
A teacher at the Kawsar-e Danish centre, which provides tutoring to give children a pathway to higher education, said he and other teaching staff were in shock.
“All the students were full of energy, belonging to poor families but hoping for a brighter future,” said the teacher, who asked not to be named due to security concerns.
Surge in violence
The US signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February, opening up a path towards withdrawing American troops from the conflict and direct talks between the armed group and Afghan negotiators.
There has been a surge in violence between Taliban and Afghan forces in the country recently, even as representatives from the two warring sides have begun peace talks in Doha to end the decades-long war in Afghanistan.
The US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, in a Twitter post early on Sunday, reiterated a call for an immediate reduction in violence and an acceleration in the peace process, citing rising violence in recent weeks including a finding by the human rights commission that an Afghan government air raid had killed 12 children.
“How much more can we endure, as individuals and as society? How many times can we rise?” asked Shaharzad Akbar, chair of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission on Twitter shortly after Saturday’s attack, saying the targeting of civilians was a war crime.
Earlier on Saturday, a roadside bomb killed nine people in eastern Afghanistan after it struck a minivan full of civilians, a local official said.
Ghazni province police spokesman Ahmad Khan Sirat said a second roadside bomb had killed two policemen after it struck their vehicle which was making its way to the victims of the first explosion.
Sirat added the bombings had wounded several others, and the attacks were under investigation.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for these attacks. The provincial police spokesman claimed the Taliban had placed the bomb.