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Big hugs and selfies as Afghan soldiers, Taliban celebrate Eid ceasefire

Afghan soldiers and Taliban militants celebrated an unprecedented ceasefire marking the end of the Ramadan fasting season with Eid greetings, handshakes, big hugs and selfies.

The Taliban announced a surprise three-day ceasefire over the Eid holiday, which began on Friday, except against foreign forces. It overlaps with an Afghan government ceasefire which lasts until Wednesday.

Video and pictures on social media showed cheerful soldiers and Taliban hugging one another and exchanging Eid greetings in Logar province, south of Kabul, and Zabul in the south and central Maidan Wardak.

Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Masood Azizi said the ceasefire was being monitored throughout the country.

“Luckily there have been no attacks,” he told Reuters.

Governors in Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul said both sides had adhered to the ceasefire and that there had been no reports of violence for 24 hours.

Members of rights groups organized a brief meeting between Afghan forces and Taliban insurgents in Helmand’s capital city. Laskargah, where the Taliban have delivered a series of blows to government forces this year.

Men and women gathered around the soldiers and Taliban fighters and urged them to keep their weapons holstered before they hugged each other.

“It was the most peaceful Eid. For the first time we felt safe. It is hard to describe the joy,” said Qais Liwal, a student in Zabul.

The main square of Kunduz city, capital of the province of the same name which has witnessed series of bloody clashes, became a friendly meeting ground.

Resident Mohammad Amir said his younger brother had told him the Taliban were casually entering the city.

“I could not believe my eyes,” he told Reuters. “I saw Taliban and police standing side by side and taking selfies.”

Photos circulating on social media show armed Afghan police forces standing in line at the corner of the street hugging Taliban fighters one by one.

A video showed huge crowd of people screaming and whistling as they welcomed the Taliban.

Reuters could not verify these videos.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday expressed hope that the ceasefire would make way for a lengthier ceasefire and called for the Taliban come to the negotiating table instead of returning to the battlefield.

The ceasefire coincided with the start of the World Cup, a cricket test match debut against India and hopes for elections later in the year and for peace that lasts longer than just a few days following months of deteriorating security, especially in the capital, Kabul.

The Taliban are fighting U.S.-led NATO forces, combined under the Resolute Support mission, and the U.S.-backed government to restore sharia, or Islamic law, after their ouster by U.S.-led forces in 2001.

Resolute Support said it was hopeful that the Taliban stick to their ceasefire “and we hope that pause leads to dialogue and progress on reconciliation”.

(Reuters ; Rupam Jain ; Qadir Sediqi ; News 18)
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