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Dozens killed in attacks on Afghanistan maternity ward, funeral

Dozens killed in attacks on Afghanistan maternity ward, funeral
Security forces respond to an attack Tuesday at a medical facility in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo by Hedayatullah Amid/EPA-EFE

May 12 (UPI) -- Dozens of people, mostly civilians, have been killed in a series of attacks in Afghanistan conducted over the past 24 hours, including a siege Tuesday on a hospital in Kabul that resulted in the deaths of mothers and babies, authorities said.

At least 14 people, including two newborns, mothers and medical staff, were killed Tuesday when gunmen stormed one of Kabul's busiest hospitals, which contained a maternity ward run by Doctors Without Borders.

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Shortly after in the eastern province of Nangarhar, at least 26 people were killed and 68 others were injured after a suicide bomber attacked the funeral of a local police commander.

In response, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ordered security forces to resume offensive operations against the Taliban.

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"I strongly condemn recent attacks in a hospital in Kabul and Nangarhar province, which killed a number of innocent people, including women and children," he said Tuesday in a national address. "Taliban have rejected our repeated calls for a cease-fire, calls for cease-fire don't mean weakness."

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Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Aryan told CBS News the attack also left some new mothers and nurses dead at the maternity clinic. Fifteen people sustained injuries.

"Who attacks newborn babies and new mothers? Who does this?" tweeted Deborah Lyons, the head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, in condemnation of the attack. "The most innocent of innocents, a baby! Why?"

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Medicins Sans Frontieres confirmed the attack on its maternity ward, reporting explosions and gunfire.

"We can confirm the attack is over, but details remain unclear," it said. "All our efforts at this time are focused on the safety of our patients and staff."

According to its website, it focuses on emergency, pediatric and maternal healthcare.

Witnesses heard gunfire and two explosions at the onset of the attacks by suicide bombers, officials said.

Aryan said several assailants were involved in the attack. He said special forces killed all attackers during a "clearing operation."

The special forces also moved about 100 people to safety.

The 100-bed facility is located in the minority Shiite Hazara community of the Afghan capital.

The attacks attracted widespread condemnation from human rights groups, the United Nations and the United States.

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Amnesty International South Asia described the attacks as "unconscionable war crimes" that should act as a wake-up call for the world "to the horrors civilians continue to face."

"There must be accountability for these grave crimes, and civilians must be protected," it tweeted.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the attacks, describing the hospital siege as "an act of sheer evil."

The Taliban has denied responsibility for the assaults, blaming them instead on the Islamic State terrorist organization.

Afghan officials have blamed the Taliban for the attacks amid an increase in violence that has followed the militant group and the United States signing a peace agreement in February.

"The attacks of the last two months show us and the world that Taliban & their sponsors do not and did not intend to pursue peace," said Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan's national security advisor, in a series of tweets. "Their attacks this spring against Afghans are comparable to the level of fighting in past fighting seasons."

He said the Afghan government has a responsibility to hold them accountable, threatening to end ongoing peace negotiations.

"If the Taliban can not control the violence, or their sponsors have no subcontracted their terror to other entities -- which was one of our primary concerns form the beginning -- then there seems little point in continuing to engage Taliban in 'peace talks,'" he said.

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The Taliban said in a statement it "strongly condemns" the attacks though warned Ghani that it will protect itself.

Pompeo, in his statement, acknowledged the Taliban's rejection of responsibility, urging it and the Afghan government to cooperate "to bring the perpetrators to justice."

"As long as there is no sustained reduction in violence and insufficient progress towards a negotiated political settlement, Afghanistan will remain vulnerable to terrorism," Pompeo said. "The Afghan people deserve a future free from terror, and the ongoing peace process continues to present a critical opportunity for Afghans to come together to build a united front against the menace of terrorism."

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