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Helmand fighting disrupts critical health services: UNOCHA

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(Last Updated On: October 15, 2020)

Heavy fighting in southern Helmand province, near Lashkargah city, has not only displaced thousands of people but it has also interrupted critical health services as clinics have been forced to shut down in some areas, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said on Thursday. 

In an update on the fighting, which broke out on Saturday night when the Taliban launched coordinated attacks across the province, UNOCHA said clashes were reported in Nahr-e-Saraj and Nad-e-Ali districts on Wednesday – two of the areas that have been hardest hit since Sunday. 

The UN agency also stated that the highway between Helmand and Kandahar remains closed. 

UNOCHA said they were verifying the numbers of displaced people after local authorities estimated 35,000 (about 5,000 households) had been forced to flee their homes earlier this week. 

Health clinics in a number of areas have also been affected, the report stated adding that two clinics in Nawa and Bolan closed on Wednesday due to active fighting in the areas while seven other health facilities in Nad-e Ali, Marja, Nahr-e-Saraj, Lashkargah and Nawa also closed down due to threats to health staff. 

“Before closing, the health facilities were operating in a reduced capacity, focusing on trauma care only. The closure of the health facilities affects more than 38,000 people in the area and deprives them of access to critical health services,” the report read.

Meanwhile, food distribution to needy households started on Wednesday. The Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA) handed out food to 120 households (approximately 800 people ), with up to 1,000 additional households (7,000 people) – who have been displaced – expected to receive ANDMA assistance in Lashkargah in the coming days. 

Electricity and telecommunication lines are still disrupted in some areas, hindering the flow of information. This has affected people’s ability to communicate and humanitarian partners’ ability to conduct assessments, UNOCHA said. 

Meanwhile, the UNHCR will deliver assistance to 600 households (200 tents and 400 non-food item kits). 

UNOCHA “is working with clusters to deliver further assistance, including tents, food and water which have been highlighted as immediate needs,” their report stated adding that the World Health Organization will relocate three Mobile Health Teams (MHTs) to provide medical services to the displaced population in Lashkargah city.

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Khalilzad heads for Turkey and Qatar after peace talks breakthrough

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(Last Updated On: December 3, 2020)

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad left Washington Thursday for Turkey and Qatar where he will once again hold talks on the intra-Afghan negotiations.

The US State Department said in a statement that when in Turkey, Khalilzad will discuss international coordination and Turkish support for Afghanistan’s peace talks.

“In Qatar, Ambassador Khalilzad will meet with the two Afghan parties as they move into the next phase of negotiations following the successful conclusion of an agreement on rules and procedures. It is imperative the parties build on the current momentum and accelerate their work to reach agreement on a political roadmap and a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire,” the statement read.

Khalilzad also confirmed his trip and said on Twitter that he was on his way back to the region and stopping first in Ankara to discuss Turkey’s support for the Afghan peace process.

“From there, headed to Doha to see how best we can help the sides build on the success of their recent agreement on rules and procedures and make quick progress on a political roadmap and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire,” he wrote.

“I’ll also be traveling in the region to garner more international support for the Afghan peace process,” Khalilzad tweeted.

This comes as the peace negotiating teams of the Afghan Republic and the Taliban on Wednesday agreed on procedural rules for the intra-Afghan talks.

The two sides have also started negotiations on the agenda of the talks.

“Today (Wednesday), the plenary meeting was held between two intra-Afghan negotiating teams. In this meeting, a joint working committee was tasked to prepare the draft topics for the agenda,” Nader Nadery, spokesman for the Afghan delegation said.

He stated that the current negotiations of both negotiating teams indicate that there is a willingness among Afghans to reach sustainable peace and both sides are committed to continuing their sincere efforts to reach a sustainable peace in Afghanistan.

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Pompeo hails peace talks agreement as a ‘major milestone’

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(Last Updated On: December 2, 2020)

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said on Wednesday night that the agreement reached between the Afghan Republic’s negotiating team and that of the Taliban “provides hope” that a political settlement can eventually be reached. 

Pompeo’s statement came shortly after the two parties to the peace talks in Doha announced they had reached an agreement on the rules and procedures in order to start formal talks. 

In his statement, Pompeo said: “The US welcomes the Agreement announced today by the negotiating teams from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban. 

“This Agreement is a major milestone in the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations that have been underway since September 12, 2020.

“The Agreement codifies the rules and procedures the two sides have been negotiating since the start of talks.  

“The teams made a number of important decisions that will guide their negotiations on a political roadmap and a comprehensive ceasefire,” he said.

Pompeo also stated that the US congratulates both sides on their perseverance and willingness to find common ground.  He said “this achievement demonstrates that the Afghan Islamic Republic and Taliban are serious, able to overcome differences, and ready to deal with difficult issues.”

“What has been achieved provides hope they will succeed in reaching a political settlement to this more than forty-year-old conflict. The United States thanks Qatar for its role as host and facilitator of the talks,” he said.

Pompeo also stated that the people of Afghan want rapid progress on a political roadmap and a ceasefire more than anything else.  

He also said the US, along with most of the international community, will continue to support the peace process in pursuit of this goal.  

“As negotiations on a political roadmap and permanent ceasefire begin, we will also work hard with all sides in pursuit of a serious reduction of violence and ceasefire,” he said.

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Doha talks breakthrough welcomed by government and foreign partners

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(Last Updated On: December 2, 2020)

The United States, European Union (EU), UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the British Embassy in Kabul were among many who welcomed Wednesday’s announcement of a breakthrough in the Doha peace talks and say they hope this leads to a ceasefire.

US peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, also welcomed the announcement that the Afghan Republic’s negotiating team and the Taliban had agreed on the rules and procedures of talks going forward.

In a series of tweets, Khalilzad however emphasized the need for a reduction in violence and ceasefire.

“As negotiations on a political roadmap and permanent ceasefire begin, we will work hard with all sides for a serious reduction of violence and even a ceasefire during this period. This is what the Afghan people want and deserve” tweeted Khalilzad.

According to Khalilzad, “this agreement demonstrates that the negotiating parties can agree on tough issues…The people of Afghanistan now expect rapid progress on a political roadmap and a ceasefire. We understand their desire and we support them.”

The US embassy in Kabul also welcomed the breakthrough in a tweet. US Charge d’Affaires Ross Wilson said: “Welcome news from the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations.”

Andreas von Brandt, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union in Afghanistan, also hailed the breakthrough calling it a ”promising step forward.”

Deborah Lyons, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) chief “welcomes progress achieved by both negotiating teams in the Afghan Peace Process. Moving on to the agenda is a positive development,” her office tweeted.

According to UNAMA “this breakthrough should be a springboard to reach the peace wanted by all Afghans.”

The British embassy in Kabul also tweeted and said they are encouraging both sides to continue the positive momentum.
“The biggest obstacle remaining is the current unacceptable level of violence: this must stop. Peace is the only solution for lasting stability, security, and peace in Afghanistan” the embassy tweeted.

Abdullah Abdulah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation also welcomed the latest development.

“I welcome the initial major step taken in Doha today agreeing to the procedural framework that paves the way for discussions about the peace agenda. I thank the republic’s negotiation team, all facilitators and the host Qatar for their valuable support,” tweeted Abdullah.

The Presidential Palace was also quick to respond. President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi tweeted: “The President of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan welcomes the finalization of the negotiation procedures in Doha. It’s a step forward towards beginning the negotiations on the main issues, including a comprehensive ceasefire as the key demand of the Afghan people for a lasting peace.”

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