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KABUL: A suicide blast in a mainly Shia area of Kabul killed 48 people on Wednesday, the latest in a wave of attacks in Afghanistan that have killed hundreds of civilians, soldiers and policemen over recent days.

The explosion, targeting an educational centre in the west of the Afghan capital, tore through a large tent set up as a classroom in the courtyard, killing teenagers studying for a university entrance examination.

The blast, which shattered weeks of relative calm in Kabul, also wounded 67 people, mostly students.

“Most of the boys at the educational centre have been killed,” said Sayed Ali, who witnessed the blast. “It was horrific and many of the students were torn to pieces.”

Doctors at city hospitals, where people had gathered to try to find relatives who had been studying at the centre, said many of the victims were severely burned.

“My brother was studying at the centre and he was killed. I’m here to get his body,” said Abdul Khaliq, waiting outside the Isteqlal hospital.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Kabul blast, but the attack bore the hallmark of the militant Islamic State group, which has conducted many previous attacks on Shias. The Taliban issued a statement denying it was involved.

The explosion, which came as the central city of Ghazni struggles to recover from five days of intense fighting between the Taliban and government forces, underlined how badly security in Afghanistan has degenerated, some two months before parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan called for the fighting to stop, saying up to 150 civilians are estimated to have been killed in Ghazni, where the public hospital was overwhelmed and water and electricity supplies cut.

“The extreme human suffering caused by the fighting in Ghazni highlights the urgent need for the war in Afghanistan to end,” the top UN official in Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said in a statement.

Taliban pullback

The Taliban, who launched their Ghazni assault last Friday and battled Afghan forces backed by US air strikes in the middle of the city for days, said their fighters had been pulled out to prevent further harm to the populace.

“They were facing severe shortages of food and drinking water as the power supply was also suspended two days ago,” a Taliban commander said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was providing dressing packages and oral and intravenous medicine to treat the wounded, along with electricity generators and fresh water for about 18,000 people.

The Ghazni attack, one of the Taliban’s most devastating in years, has clouded hopes for peace talks that had been prompted by an unprecedented ceasefire during Eid celebration in June and a meeting last month between Taliban officials and a senior US diplomat.

Two senior Taliban leaders said this week the group was considering announcing a ceasefire for Eidul Azha, but the future of any peace process remained uncertain.

With parliamentary elections due on Oct 20, authorities had been bracing for more attacks in Kabul and other cities, but even so, the scale of the violence has come as a shock to a government facing bitter criticism over its handling of the war.

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2018