Jeddah - More than 100 Muslim scholars from around the world meeting Wednesday in the Saudi holy city of Makkah issued an urgent appeal for peace in Afghanistan as they ended a two-day conference.

“The solution to the cause of the Muslim Afghani must particularly go through mutual understanding and direct peaceful negotiations,” read the closing declaration.

“Reconciling between battling Muslims is one of the greatest and most honoured acts of worship,” it said.

The international gathering, which focused on prospects for peace in Afghanistan, was sponsored by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, based in nearby Jeddah. Yousef al-Othaimeen, the head of the 57-member pan-Islamic organisation, ended the meeting by urging a ceasefire for Afghanistan.

“The OIC calls on all parties to observe a truce, respect a ceasefire and enter into direct negotiations,” he told reporters at the close of the conference.

The scholars were received on Wednesday by Saudi King Salman, who expressed his country’s commitment to a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan, according to state news agency SPA.

The Taliban ignored an invitation from the OIC to attend the Makkah conference, Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat reported Wednesday.

Thus far, the Taliban have not responded to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offers for dialogue, instead demanding to sit down with the United States, which has dismissed this proposal. Attacks occur on a near-daily basis in Afghanistan, where the US toppled the Taliban from power 17 years ago.

A recent ceasefire between Afghan security forces and the Taliban during Eid holidays had raised hopes that an end to hostilities in the war-weary country was possible. But the Taliban refused the government’s request to extend their three-day ceasefire, launching attacks that have seen scores killed or injured.


Back in Afghanistan, at least 11 people were killed after gunmen stormed an education department compound in east of the country Wednesday, officials said, sparking an hours-long battle with security forces in the latest attack in the restive region.

Ten others, mostly employees, were wounded in the second attack in Jalalabad city in as many days, Nangarhar provincial governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said in a statement.

Many of the workers were trapped inside the building during the gun battle between security forces and militants, which has ended. Twenty staff members were rescued.

The 11 dead were all employees of the education department branch and included the director, Khogyani said. At least two attackers were involved in the raid and both were killed.

The sound of gunfire followed by a “big explosion” that shattered windows alerted Qari Samiullah to the fact that an attack was under way near his shop.

“I left my shop and ran when I heard a second explosion,” Samiullah told AFP. “Smoke came out of the building and all the people started to run away.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the raid.

Local teachers had been delivering exam results from their schools to the office when the gunmen attacked, provincial education department spokesman Asif Shinwari told AFP.

Jalalabad’s education department was also attacked by gunmen exactly a month ago, wounding at least 10 people. Nangarhar’s provincial capital has seen an uptick in violence in recent weeks, with the Islamic State group claiming most of the attacks.

On Tuesday, a suicide attack in the city killed at least 12 people and ignited a nearby petrol station, with witnesses describing screaming victims “swallowed” by flames.The bomber was targeting Afghan security forces when he blew himself up. Ten civilians were among the dead.

IS claimed that attack via its Amaq propaganda agency. The series of high-casualty suicide bomb attacks in the province comes as US and Afghan forces continue offensive operations against the group.

One of the deadliest was on July 1 when a suicide bomber blew himself up among a group of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in Jalalabad, killing at least 19 people. While the Taliban is Afghanistan’s largest militant group, IS has a relatively small but potent presence, mainly in the north and east of the country.

Wednesday’s attack comes a day after President Ashraf Ghani flew to Brussels to attend a NATO summit where he will be hoping to get a greater commitment from members to the nearly 17-year conflict.

Currently, there are about 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan, providing the main component of the NATO mission there to support and train local forces.

Nangarhar borders Pakistan, which has been under growing US pressure to crack down on extremist groups operating in the country.

Pakistan has long been accused of supporting the Afghan Taliban and providing safe haven to its leaders, charges Islamabad denies. Pakistan, in return, has accused Afghanistan of sheltering the Pakistani Taliban.