Afghan Taliban have announced a truce during the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed the move, ordering the Afghan military to honor the ceasefire.
Afghanistan's government plans to accelerate the release of Taliban prisoners, President Ashraf Ghani said in his Eid message on Sunday.
The announcement came hours after the Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire as the Holy Month of Ramadan ends and the Eid al-Fitr festival begins.
Speaking in the presidential palace, Ghani said that the Taliban should also release all of its prisoners from the Afghan security forces as soon as possible.
The release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners was part of the deal the Taliban made with the US in February, as well as a precondition set by the militants for joining intra-Afghan talks. The Afghan government halted the release of Taliban militants in early May after freeing 1,000 of them.
The Taliban's three-day truce announcement came as a surprise following months of violent attacks in the country.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the militant group, said in a statement that the group's "leadership instructs all the mujahideen [Islamic warriors] of the Islamic Emirate to take special measures for the security of the countrymen, and conduct no offensive operation against the enemy anywhere."
The insurgent group, which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, vowed to retaliate "if there is an attack from the enemy in any place."
'A momentous opportunity'
US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated Washington's deal with the Taliban, hailed the holiday truce.
"We welcome the Taliban's decision to observe a ceasefire during Eid, as well as the Afghan government announcement reciprocating and announcing its own ceasefire," Khalilzad tweeted.
"This development offers the opportunity to accelerate the peace process," he added. Khalilzad spoke of "a momentous opportunity that should not be missed."
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said "all parties should seize this opportunity for peace, for the benefit of all Afghans."
"NATO remains committed to Afghanistan's long-term security," Stoltenberg tweeted.
The Taliban had rejected Kabul's proposal of a truce during the month of Ramadan, saying the ceasefire was "not rational."
A deadly attack at a clinic in Kabul earlier this month killed dozens – including infants. The Taliban denied involvement in the attack, but the Afghan government launched a fresh military operation against the militant group.
The ceasefire announcement comes months after the Taliban signed a landmark peace deal with the US in February, paving the way for the withdrawal of US troops and intra-Afghan talks.
Earlier this week, Khalilzad urged both the Afghan government and the Taliban to reduce violence and move ahead with intra-Afghan negotiations.
The US military in Afghanistan also welcomed the ceasefire. "We reiterate our call for the militaries of all sides to reduce violence to allow the peace process to take hold," it said in a statement.
mm,adi/shs (AP, Reuters, AFP)