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Rockets land near Afghan presidential palace during Eid prayers

Afghan Muslim devotees offer their Eid al-Adha prayers inside a mosque in Kabul on July 20, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

At least three rockets have landed near the presidential palace in the Afghan capital of Kabul as prayers, attended by President Ashraf Ghani and other politicians, were being held for the Muslim occasion of Eid al-Adha.

Rockets, fired from Parwan-e-Se area north of Kabul, hit the area in the early morning hours on Tuesday.

According to Interior Ministry spokesman Mirwais Stanikzai, the rockets appeared to have been fired from a pickup truck. One did not detonate, he said.

"Based on our initial information, we have no casualties," he added.

The blasts from the impact of the rockets were heard across the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses the presidential palace and foreign embassies.

In a video posted on the palace's official Facebook page, the president was seen standing at the front of dozens of men, who continued with their prayers even as the rockets were heard overhead and exploding nearby.

A member of Afghan security personnel stands guard along a road in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 20, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Ghani blames Taliban

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Ghani blamed the Taliban militant group for the rocket attacks.

"The Taliban have proved that they have no will and intention for peace," he said in a speech afterwards.

The militants have intensified attacks across Afghanistan recently as the United States completes a withdrawal of all forces from the country. On Monday, a dozen diplomatic missions in Kabul called for "an urgent end" to the surge of violence, saying, "The Taliban's offensive is in direct contradiction to their claim to support a negotiated settlement."

"It has resulted in loss of innocent Afghan lives, including through continued targeted killings, displacement of the civilian population, looting and burning of buildings, destruction of vital infrastructure, and damage to communication networks," they said.

Muslim worshipers offer their Eid al-Adha prayers inside a mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 20, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Many have blamed the US and its NATO allies for the surge in violence, saying they have failed to stabilize the security situation in Afghanistan after two decades of war and occupation.

The Taliban militant group held another round of talks with representative of the Afghan government in the Qatari capital, Doha, over the weekend despite the heightened violence. The two sides said in a joint statement late on Sunday that they had agreed on the need to reach a "just solution," and to meet again next week.

"We also agreed that there should be no pause in the negotiations," Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), told AFP on Monday.

The Taliban and the Afghan government have previously announced ceasefires during Muslim holidays. But Abdullah said neither side was currently considering a ceasefire.

Amid the US withdrawal, Turkey has agreed to provide security for the Kabul airport.

Turkey can run Kabul airport if US meets conditions: Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country could run Kabul airport if Washington met certain conditions.

Erdogan told journalists in a televised address from Nicosia in northern Cyprus, on Tuesday that Ankara was "right now looking positively" to the idea of running Kabul airport after US troops withdraw from Afghanistan.

"[But] firstly, America will stand by us in diplomatic relations. Secondly, they will mobilize their logistical means for us... and the other one is that there will be serious problems on financial and administrative issues, and they will give necessary support to Turkey," he said. "If these conditions can be met, we, as Turkey, are planning to operate the Kabul airport."

Erdogan and US President Joe Biden discussed the issue in their first face-to-face meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit last month.

"There's now a new era" in Afghanistan, Erdogan said, while repeating Ankara's willingness to talk with the Taliban.

The Taliban, meanwhile, has called on Turkey to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan under a deal reached between the US and the Afghan militants in Doha last year. Last week, the group called Turkey's offer to secure the airport "reprehensible"

But Erdogan said the Taliban should be able to talk about these issues with Turkey "more comfortably."

"I believe we can reach an agreement," he said.

According to Pentagon officials, Turkey is expected to provide 600 to 1,000 troops to secure the airport. Turkey, a NATO member, currently has about 600 troops in Afghanistan.

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