KANDAHAR (AFP) - Multiple explosions tore through a busy market in southern Afghanistan on Monday (June 29), killing at least 23 civilians, officials said, blaming the Taleban for the carnage.
The latest bloodshed comes as both the Taleban and Afghan government prepare to launch peace talks aimed at ending the country's nearly two-decade-old war.
The blasts at the bazaar in the Sangin district of Helmand province also wounded 15 people, the governor's office and army said in separate statements.
Rockets hit the market at 9am local time after which a car bomb exploded, the governor's office said, blaming Taleban militants for the attack.
The army also accused the Taleban of carrying out the offensive.
Two Taleban insurgents were killed, the governor's office added.
"Unfortunately, 23 civilians were killed and around 15 others were wounded," the army said in its statement.
The Taleban, however, denied responsibility, pinning the blame on the Afghan army which they accused of firing the rockets.
The militants hold large areas of Helmand province, a region known for its opium production.
President Ashraf Ghani condemned the "terrorist attack", which he said had left several children dead.
"The Afghan government once again call on the Taleban to give up violence, and heed the demand of the people to stop fighting and start talks," Ghani said, in a statement issued by his office.
Violence dropped after the Taleban offered a rare ceasefire to mark the Eid festival on May 24, but officials say the militants have now stepped up attacks against security forces and civilians.
In recent weeks, several brutal attacks have targeted Afghan security forces, mosques, human rights workers and prosecutors.
The Taleban have denied most of these attacks, but acknowledge that the group's fighters have been targeting security forces.
The rise in violence in recent weeks come as both the government and Taleban are set to engage in peace talks.
The United States has pushed for launching the talks after it signed a deal with the Taleban that paves the way for withdrawing all foreign forces by the middle of next year.