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Afghan Sides Agree to a Rare Cease-Fire During Eid al-Fitr

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban and the Afghan government announced a cease-fire for the three days of the Muslim festival Eid al-Fitr, which starts on Sunday in Afghanistan, offering the war-torn nation a rare respite from violence that has been intensifying.

The insurgents, in a statement late on Saturday, said they had instructed their fighters to only resort to fighting if their positions were attacked. Hours later, President Ashraf Ghani, who had recently ordered his troops to move into offensive operations following increasing Taliban attacks, said Afghan security forces would comply.

“I welcome the ceasefire announcement by the Taliban,” Mr. Ghani wrote on Twitter. “The Afghan government extends the offer of peace.”

This is only the second brief cease-fire that both sides have agreed to during the nearly two decades since the U.S. invasion toppled the Taliban government in 2001. The first cessation of violence, during Eid in 2018, was widely celebrated across the country as a rare glimpse of what Afghanistan without war could look like. Eid al-Fitr is an Islamic holiday that signifies the end of Ramadan, the holy month of daytime fasting.

The announcement of the latest cease-fire was widely welcomed by the United Nations, NATO, and other allies of Afghanistan who have been urging the Taliban to stop the bloodshed, which has been threatening to derail a fragile peace process.

In February, the insurgents and the United States signed an initial peace deal that lays out a phased withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, and the next steps of a process to end the war in a political settlement — including an exchange of up to 6,000 prisoners that will pave way for direct negotiations between the Afghan sides.

All those steps have since faced hurdles, and the Taliban over the past couple months have intensified their attacks on Afghan forces even as they have refrained from clashes with U.S. troops.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy for Afghan peace who has been shuttling around the region again in recent weeks despite Covid-19 travel restrictions, welcomed a cease-fire that many hope can reset a bogged-down peace effort.

“This development offers the opportunity to accelerate the peace process,” Mr. Khalilzad said. “Other positive steps should immediately follow: the release of remaining prisoners as specified in the U.S.-Taliban agreement by both sides, no returning to high levels of violence, and an agreement on a new date for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations.”

Najim Rahim contributed reporting from Kabul.

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