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Kabul's jets try to drive off rebels

Kabul (Reuter) - Afghan government jets bombed rebel positions outside the capital yesterday, killing up to 50 people, the Defence Ministry said.

An official said 20 people were also wounded as the jets hit Charasyab, 25 kilometres (15 miles) from Kabul, where commanders of the Taliban Islamic militia were meeting to discuss plans for their war against the government. There was no independent confirmation of the report.

Earlier, a Pakistan-based Afghan news service said forces loyal to President Burhanuddin Rabbani also directed artillery fire at Charasyab.

The Taliban reoccupied Charasyab in October, six months after losing it to government forces, and have frequently shelled Kabul from hills to the south and west of the city. Yesterday's attacks came amid rumours that the government would soon launch an offensive to drive the Taliban out of artillery range of the capital.

Taliban sources said 300 clerics invited to a meeting to discuss making a peace offer to Kabul had reached the southern town of Kandahar, the militia's headquarters. The meeting could start in a day or two.

The council of the clerics, from 15 Taliban-held provinces and other parts of the country, has the authority to decide whether to pursue war or negotiate peace with Mr Rabbani.