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Afghan presidential compound hit in rocket attack on capital

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Kabul (AFP)

Six members of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's honour guard were wounded Tuesday when a rocket struck his palace compound, two officials told AFP.

The rocket was one of a salvo launched into central Kabul just as officials were gathering in the capital to commemorate Afghanistan's 101st independence day.

Ghani had finished speaking outside the famous Arg Palace to mark the event when a rocket landed in the sprawling compound and wounded six members of his honour guard, two palace officials told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The president had already wrapped up his ceremonial duties and was not affected.

The interior ministry did not immediately comment on the incident, but spokesman Tareq Arian earlier said 14 rockets were fired out of two vehicles in the capital, mostly hitting civilian homes.

"Unfortunately, 10 civilians including four children and one woman have been wounded," Arian said. Two suspects were arrested, he added.

The Arg Palace is located in a highly fortified area of the capital that also houses several embassies, and "incoming fire" alarms could be heard blaring from the US embassy.

Ghani's swearing-in ceremony on March 9 was also interrupted by rocket fire near the palace. No serious injuries were reported at the time.

In August 2018, multiple rockets were fired in Kabul, including at the presidential palace, where Ghani was making a speech. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

No group immediately claimed Tuesday's rocket attack, which came as the Afghan government and the Taliban are poised to begin peace talks.

"We were expecting suicide attacks and bomb blasts on the roads, not rockets to hit our houses," said Habib Rahman, whose house was struck by one of the rockets.

Negotiations are set to start once Kabul completes the release of about 400 Taliban prisoners as approved last week by a traditional gathering of thousands of prominent Afghans.

Afghan authorities have so far released 80 Taliban prisoners, but insist that the remaining 320 will be freed after the militants release some Afghan soldiers held captive by them.

Officials said the delay in releasing the remaining Taliban prisoners was also due to opposition from Paris and Canberra because some of the inmates are accused of killing French and Australian citizens and soldiers.

The Taliban, in a statement issued to mark independence day, vowed to continue their struggle "with all our might towards regaining our sovereignty and establishing an Islamic government in our homeland".

Afghanistan was never a part of Britain's empire but it became officially independent from British influence in August 1919.

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