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Blast kills 26 at gathering of Taliban, Afghan forces in Nangarhar

An explosion has killed at least 26 people at a gathering of the Taliban and Afghan security officials in the eastern province of Nangarhar as the two sides were marking their unprecedented three-day ceasefire on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr Muslim holidays.

The reason for the explosion in the restive district of Bati Kot on Saturday is still unknown. Civilians and Taliban forces were reportedly among the casualties.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, but the Taliban denied responsibility.

“The incident has nothing to do with the Taliban,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters. “The area where the blast happened is close to our front line. Some of our members went there to celebrate Eid. Our members suffered casualties.”

The blast took place as dozens of unarmed Taliban forces reportedly entered different Afghan cities on Saturday on the second day of Eid, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

While Afghan Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak met with Taliban forces in the capital Kabul on Saturday, Taliban fighters and Afghan security forces held prayers together in Bati Kot district.

In a scene which would have been unimaginable just a few days ago, armed Taliban forces who traveled by cars and motorbikes to Bati Kot waving Afghan and Taliban flags were greeted by Afghan forces at security checkpoints.

On the sidelines of their prayers ceremony in Bati Kot, the two sides hugged and took selfies with each other.

Villagers also gathered around Taliban forces, hugging them and posing for photos with the heavily-armed fighters during the Eid al-Fitr celebrations.

Meanwhile, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced Saturday an extension of the government’s week-long ceasefire with the Taliban, as both sides observed a halt in hostilities for Eid.

In a televised address to the nation, Ghani also asked the Taliban to extend their three-day ceasefire which is due to end Sunday.