KABUL (Reuters) – Gunmen attacked the communications ministry in the centre of Kabul on Saturday, interrupting months of relative calm in the Afghan capital and underlining security threats that have continued despite efforts to open peace talks with the Taliban.

Saturday’s attack opened shortly before midday with an explosion at the entrance to the multi-storey building housing the ministry in a busy commercial area of the city, followed up by gunfire which could be heard over a mile away.

The area around the building was sealed off by police as at least three attackers battled security forces, Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said.

By early afternoon, he said at least two of the attackers had been killed and gunfire could no longer be heard. However, there was no confirmation that the attack was over.

The explosion, which security officials said appeared to have been caused by a suicide bomber, was also close to the heavily fortified Serena Hotel, one of the very few Kabul hotels still used by foreign visitors.

There was no immediate word on further casualties and no claim of responsibility for the operation, which marked a return to the kind of complex urban attack that have been familiar features of the Afghan conflict over recent years.

Hundreds of people have been killed in Kabul in attacks by militant groups including the Taliban and Islamic State.

But as U.S. officials have held a series of meetings with representatives from the Taliban, Kabul has been relatively calm. While heavy fighting has carried on across Afghanistan and Taliban militants have announced their now customary spring offensive, it had been several months since the last major attack on civilian targets in the capital.

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The attack, just days after a planned meeting between Taliban officials and Afghan politicians and civil society representatives in Qatar was cancelled, underlined the hurdles facing efforts to reach a peace settlement.

Officials have said they hope to hold a meeting soon but no date has been set.

Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Rupam Jain, James Mackenzie; Editing by Nick Macfie and Kenneth Maxwell



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