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Gun battles rage near Indian consulate in Afghanistan

Gunfights have raged as Afghan forces battle to flush out fighters holed up near the Indian consulate in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, hours after they attempted to storm the diplomatic mission.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the raid, as the fighting continued into Monday in the latest in a series of assaults on Indian installations in the country.

According to Al Jazeera’s Qais Azimy, reporting from Kabul: “A police source told us that it was quiet overnight. The operation against the attackers is being led by the governor of the Balkh province, and he was hoping to catch the attackers alive. But this morning, the fighting kicked off again.

“Afghan forces could enter the building [where the fighters are holed up] in the next half hour or so. They believe they are facing four attackers – two of whom are already dead – but that number might not be accurate,” Azimy reported.

Seven people have been injured in the clashes so far, including one security official. Some casualties had also been reported but initial details were scarce.

At least four assailants had mounted the attack from a building close to the consulate in the relatively tranquil Balkh province, prompting Afghan forces to cordon off the area. Loud explosions and gunshots were heard as the gunmen attempted to enter the consulate.

“They faced resistance from the guards and, instead, entered a house about 100 metres from the consulate and opened fire from there,” Azimy reported. “The house was then surrounded by the Afghan special forces.”

All Indian consular staff were safe, the consul-general confirmed.

Security forces have been carrying out a door-to-door search in the area and have not ruled out the presence of more attackers.

“The area is completely blocked by our forces,” said Shir Jan Durrani, a police spokesperson. “We are cautiously conducting our clearance operation to avoid any civilian casualties.”

he gunfight’s continuation into Monday comes as Indian security forces are still trying to suppress an assault on an airbase near the border with Pakistan that has killed at least seven military personnel and wounded 20 others.

The attack comes amid renewed efforts to reduce long-standing tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad and restart peace talks with the Afghan Taliban.

Narendra Modi visited Kabul and Islamabad last month, the first visit to Pakistan by an Indian premier in over a decade.

Sunday’s attack was not the first time an Indian diplomatic post had been attacked in Afghanistan.

In 2008, a car bomb at the Indian embassy in Kabul killed 60 people and the embassy was again hit by a suicide strike in 2009.

Nine civilians, including seven children, were killed in August 2013 when suicide bombers targeted the Indian consulate in Jalalabad.

In May 2014, gunmen launched a pre-dawn attack on India’s consulate in the western city of Herat.

Source:Al Jazeera

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