Car bomb kills at least 17 in Afghanistan ahead of ceasefire


Puli Alam (Afghanistan) (AFP)

At least 17 people were killed in a car bomb explosion in Afghanistan on Thursday as crowds shopped ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, officials and a medic said.

"Seventeen bodies and 21 wounded people were brought to our hospital," Sediqullah, a senior doctor at a hospital in the city of Puli Alam in Logar province, told AFP.

The interior ministry confirmed the blast, which came on the eve of a three-day ceasefire between the Taliban and Kabul.

"It was a suicide car bomb in a crowded place where our people were shopping for Eid al-Adha," Dedar Lawang, spokesman for Logar's governor, told AFP.

The explosion occurred near the governor's office, said Jamshed Ahmad, a student at the site of the blast.

The interior ministry condemned the explosion.

"The terrorists have once again struck on the night of Eid al-Adha and killed a number of our countrymen," interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the blast had "nothing to do" with the insurgents.

The extremist Islamic State group, which has claimed a string of high-profile attacks on civilians in recent years, did not immediately comment on Thursday's blast.

The Taliban and Afghan government have agreed on a three-day ceasefire starting Friday, the first day of Eid.

The truce is slated to last for the duration of the festival, which marks the end of hajj.

The ceasefire has raised hopes of a permanent truce ahead of much-awaited peace talks between the two foes.

The talks were initially scheduled for March, but have been delayed amid a contentious prisoner exchange.

The prisoner swap was agreed in a deal between the Taliban and Washington signed in February but which excluded Kabul.

The deal stipulated that Kabul release 5,000 Taliban prisoners in return for 1,000 Afghan security personnel held captive by the insurgents.

On Thursday, the Taliban announced they had released another 82 government inmates, the last remaining batch of prisoners they had pledged to free.

"The process has been completed successfully ... and a total of 1,005 prisoners have been released," Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on Twitter.

Afghan authorities have so far freed more than 4,400 Taliban prisoners, with further releases expected in the coming days.

On Tuesday, President Ashraf Ghani said peace talks with the Taliban could begin as early as next week, once the exchange is complete.