Seven killed as gathering condemning violence targeted in Kabul

People gather outside a voter registration center which was attacked by a suicide bomber in Kabul Sunday

People gather outside a voter registration center which was attacked by a suicide bomber in Kabul Sunday

Both militant groups seek to overthrow the US -backed government and impose a harsh version of Islamic rule, but they are split over leadership, tactics and ideology.

The explosion struck as the council was ending and the participants were about to leave, Mr Aziz said.

According to local media, around 3,000 clerics were attending the meeting of the Ulema Council, Afghanistan's top religious leaders. "A friend of mine, Gul Ahmad Delawar, from the Ministry of Haj and Religious Affairs, was also badly wounded".

Roughly an hour before the attack, they issued a fatwa against the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have been fighting an insurgency against government forces for almost 17 years, while other militant groups have also been carrying out attacks.

"Talking to impotent parties during the presence of occupying forces is pointless", Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said last week.

Spreading violence by Taliban and other militant groups has forced many schools to close, undermining fragile gains in education for girls in a country where millions have never set foot in a classroom.

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Iran has condemned the deadly suicide attack targeting a gathering of religious scholars in Kabul city, calling it a move to prevent the delivery of Ulemas message against terrorism and violence. Their role is mainly to advise the government and political bodies on matters of morals and Sharia. While the US will not likely find peace with the Taliban (nor would they need to), Mattis seeks a "political reconciliation" between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in late February proposed peace talks with the Taliban. As The New York Times notes, "Hundreds of religious scholars who have sided with the government or have openly denounced the Taliban since the group was ousted from power in 2001 have met a grim end".

The Taliban has denied U.S. Gen. John Nicholson's claim that some members of the terrorist group are participating in "confidential" negotiations with Kabul, which he described as "talking and fighting". "We, like all Afghans, are exhausted of daily explosions and bloodshed", he said".

Reportedly, Monday's meeting was meant to support the Afghan government's efforts towards a "reconciliation" agreement with the Taliban to end the war. It urged the clerics to instead side with the Taliban against the "occupation". "It will be in everyone's benefit if they do, but if they don't, I will ask Allah to punish them", he said.

Earlier, he confirmed that seven people were killed in the attack, but the toll was later revised to 14. Those killed include 7 religious scholars and 4 security personnel.

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