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Afghan soldiers stand guard near the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan July 15, 2018. Reuters/Mohammad Ismail


By Abdul Qadir Sediqi

KABUL (Reuters) - An apparent suicide blast close to a government ministry in the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday killed at least seven people and wounded more than 15, officials said, in an attack claimed by Islamic State.

The attack, which targeted civil servants leaving work in the evening rush hour, was the latest in a seemingly unending series of blasts against civilian targets in Kabul and other major cities including Jalalabad, which has seen three major attacks in the past two weeks alone.

"Apparently a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest at the gate of our ministry," said Fraidoon Azhand, a spokesman at the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development.

"The target was our staff who were leaving to their homes," he said.

Islamic State said in a statement carried by its Amaq news agency that one of its suicide bombers detonated a jacket packed with explosives amidst employees of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development in Kabul while leaving work.

It quoted an unidentified source as saying that 60 people were killed or wounded in the attack, adding that two French citizens were among the wounded. It gave no further details.

The ministry was attacked just over a month ago.

Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanekzai said at least seven people, including civilians and members of the security forces had been killed and more than 15 wounded in the attack, which also damaged a vehicle belonging to foreign advisers to the ministry.

Stanekzai said most of the casualties were ministry staff. He had no information on any casualties among the advisers.

Although the casualties reported were relatively limited compared with many other attacks, for people at the site still seeking information about family members, the attack was nonetheless devastating.

"I've come here and trying to find my son, I am really worried," said Sayed Ashraf, whose son worked at the ministry.

"I went to the hospital but I couldn't find him there and now I am waiting here to find him, I'm trying to reach him on the phone but his phone is switched off."

Earlier on Sunday, the United Nations reported a record number of civilian deaths from the conflict in Afghanistan, with a 22 percent jump in casualties from suicide attacks during the first half of the year.

Following last month's brief ceasefire over the three-day Eid holiday, President Ashraf Ghani has repeated his offer of peace talks with the Taliban and there has been growing optimism that a breakthrough may be possible.

But the Taliban, who say the Western-backed government in Kabul is illegitimate, have so far rebuffed the appeal and insisted that international troops must leave Afghanistan for talks to begin.

(Additional reporting by Sayed Hassib and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Writing by James Mackenzie. Editing by Gareth Jones and Jane Merriman)

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