(Web Desk) KABUL: The Taliban have rejected an Afghan government call for a ceasefire for the holy month of Ramazan and to let authorities focus on tackling the coronavirus, raising new concern about prospects for a fragile peace process, a British wire service reported.

Hopes for an end to Afghanistan’s decades of war were raised in late February when the Taliban and the United States struck a deal on the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces in exchange for Taliban security guarantees.

But the deal did not include a ceasefire, which has been left to the US-backed government to negotiate with the insurgents.

A Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said in a statement that a ceasefire would be possible if the peace process was being implemented “fully” but “hurdles” meant the Taliban would not yet lay down their arms.

“Asking for ceasefire is not rational and convincing,” Shaheen said late on Thursday.

President Ashraf Ghani called on Thursday for the ceasefire for Ramazan, which began in Afghanistan on Friday, and to allow the country to focus on what he said was a critical novel coronavirus outbreak spreading all over the country.

Afghanistan has detected more than 1,300 cases of the virus but health experts say the number could be higher as testing is limited and Afghanistan’s weak health system would struggle with a widespread outbreak.

The Taliban, fighting for years to expel foreign forces, agreed in February to a week-long “reduction in violence” to secure the agreement with the United States, which was signed on Feb. 29. But they resumed attacking government forces soon after.

The US-led NATO alliance called on Friday for the Taliban to cut violence levels and join peace talks.

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