At least 15 children killed in east Afghanistan bomb blast

Afghan security officials stand guard at a roadside checkpoint on the outskirts of Ghazni, Dec 18, 2020.
Afghan security officials stand guard at a roadside checkpoint on the outskirts of Ghazni, Dec 18, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

GHAZNI, AFGHANISTAN (AFP) - At least 15 children were killed when a motorbike laden with explosives blew up near a religious gathering in eastern Afghanistan on Friday (Dec 18), officials said.

The children had gathered at a home in Ghazni province to recite Quran verses, a regular activity on the Islamic holy day of Friday, when the blast happened.

"Unfortunately, as a result of this incident 15 people, all children, were martyred," said Wahedullah Jumazada, spokesman for the province's governor.

Ghazni police confirmed the blast and that all victims were children.

Twenty other people, including some children, were wounded.

Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian earlier said the group had gathered in Gilan district to recite the Quran.

Peace talks between the Taleban and the Afghan government to end the country's grinding war are on pause until January.

Violence has surged across the country since the talks opened in September in the Qatari capital of Doha, with the Taleban trying to get an upper hand.

Taleban and government forces have regularly clashed in Ghazni province, where the insurgents control several areas.

Thirty security personnel were killed last month when a suicide car bomber struck an army base near Ghazni city, the provincial capital.

Outgoing US President Donald Trump has pushed to end America's longest war, with Washington signing a deal with the Taleban early this year committing to pulling all of its troops from the country by May 2021.

The Taleban have primarily targeted government forces in rural areas since signing the deal, in which they pledged to launch negotiations with the Afghan government.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has called for the next round of peace negotiations to be held in Kabul, saying it was inappropriate to meet in "luxurious hotels".

Taleban negotiators have flown to Pakistan, where they met Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday.

Khan called on both sides to reduce violence and agree to a ceasefire.