Afghan government welcomes 3-day Taliban holiday truce

NEW HEADLINE, DECK, LEDE; UPDATED WITH AFGHAN PRESIDENT'S RESPONSE; EDITS THROUGHOUT

By Shadi Khan Saif

KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – Afghanistan’s president has welcomed the Taliban’s announcement of a three-day cease-fire to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, set to start this weekend.

In a brief statement late Saturday, Mohammed Ashraf Ghani said Afghan defense and security forces are directed to reciprocate the landmark cease-fire, but that any aggressive action would be dealt with.

The Afghan government has long urged the insurgents to declare a cease-fire ahead of proposed intra-Afghan talks in line with a peace deal between the US and the Taliban.

In a message on the Taliban’s website hours earlier, the group made the surprise announcement amid escalating conflict and a shaky peace process. This is the only second such brief cease-fire in the otherwise deadly insurgency, now in its 19th year.

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The message directed Taliban militants to stay out of areas under government control, but said government forces could visit Taliban-controlled areas.

In a similar holiday truce two years ago, there were unprecedented scenes of fighters from opposite sides embracing each other and taking selfies.

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