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U.N. expresses alarm at violence in Afghanistan as April civilian casualties jump

KABUL (Reuters) – The United Nations said Afghan civilian casualties jumped to 380 in April, expressing alarm about a “striking deterioration” in respect for international humanitarian law as the United States withdraws troops and attempts to usher in a peace deal.

The new figures come after a shocking attack last week on a Kabul maternity hospital that killed 24, including newborn babies.

Civilian casualties attributed to the Taliban in April rose by a quarter from the same month a year earlier to 208, while casualties attributed to Afghan security forces rose 38% to 172, according to provisional data from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

“I call for a halt to the fighting and for parties to respect humanitarian law that is there to protect civilians,” said Deborah Lyons, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.

The United States has sent an envoy to Doha and Kabul to press the Afghan government and the insurgent Taliban to start stalled peace talks, which it hopes will begin in earnest after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal.

Violence increased even after a Feb. 29 U.S.-Taliban pact on the withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign forces in exchange for Taliban security guarantees. The Taliban have rejected repeated calls for a ceasefire by the Afghan government.

After last Tuesday’s maternity ward attack, which the Taliban denies involvement in, the Afghan government switched its military from a defensive to an offensive stance.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement rejected the UN report, saying it is Kabul government “propaganda”.

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