June 16, 2018 / 4:27 AM / 4 months ago

Big hugs as Afghan soldiers, Taliban celebrate unprecedented Eid ceasefire

KABUL, June 16 (Reuters) - Afghan soldiers and Taliban militants celebrated an unprecedented ceasefire marking the end of the Ramadan fasting season with Eid greetings, hand shakes and big hugs.

The Taliban announced a surprise three-day ceasefire over the Eid holiday, except against foreign forces, which overlaps 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 in the last 24 hours.

Members of rights groups organised 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 at their sides 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 college student in Zabul.

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”. (Reporting by Rupam Jain; Writing by Nick Macfie)

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