Dawn attack on Kabul

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The Independent Online
KABUL (Reuter) - Maverick guerrilla groups launched a fierce bombardment of the Afghan capital before dawn yesterday, killing or injuring nearly 600 in suburbs where thousands were taking refuge.

More than 300 rockets or shells hit Kabul before dawn. Government tanks raced through the streets to reinforce the main battlefront in the south-western suburbs. It was the fiercest battle since the fractious guerrilla leaders of the Islamic coalition government signed a pact in Pakistan in March to end months of fighting.

Doctors reported 15 dead and said the figure would be much higher. Few bodies are brought to hospitals. Army officers said dozens of bodies were lying in the streets in the south-western suburbs, where government forces appeared to have launched an early- morning offensive to end six days of clashes with rival guerrilla groups.

Most of the rockets were fired from positions of the Iran-backed Shia Hizbe Wahdat group and the hardline Hizbe Islami, led by the prime minister-designate, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, in hills to the south and west.

The Red Cross chief, Armin Kobel, said doctors at the former Red Cross hospital had to stop working after 11am because of the heavy shelling. One rocket hit a 200-bed military hospital but no casualties were reported. The children's hospital alone admitted 24 children.

Throughout the day rockets rained down on the northern Khair Khana suburb, site of a large government-held military base, and in the western suburbs, already almost deserted. Khair Khana was left virtually unscathed in factional fighting over the past year and its population has been swollen by refugees from other parts of the battered city.