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Taliban reject Bush's ceasefire trade

Taliban targets in Kandahar have been bombed regularly during the U.S.airstrike campaign  

By CNN staff and wires

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan's ruling Taliban on Saturday rejected an offer by U.S. President George W. Bush to halt air strikes if they handed over Saudi-born fugitive Osama bin Laden, saying they will fight to their last breath.

"We once again want to say that their intention is a war against Muslims and Afghans," Taliban Information Minister Mullah Qudratullah Jamal was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

At a news conference on Thursday, Bush said he would halt air strikes if the Taliban "cough up" bin Laden, an offer he described as a second chance.

"Osama is not the issue and people have realised this by the crimes they are committing," Mullah Jamal said. "Our stance regarding the situation is as before (not handing him over).

"Our jihad (holy struggle) . . . will continue until the last breath for the defence of our homeland and Islam."

Taysseer Allouni, a reporter with Qatar-based Al Jazeera television in Kabul, said Saturday morning that the Taliban had dismissed any chance of reconciliation with the Americans.

"The few sources we have had said that America made it no longer possible for any contact following the bombings, which they described as brutal, as it aimed at miltary and civilian targets as well.

"And now the difference with the United States is deeply rooted," Allouni said.

Olive branch offer

Soon after Bush's offer was made, Muslim clerics at Friday prayers across the impoverished country issued fatwas, or religious edicts, requiring their followers to wage jihad, or holy war, against the United States.

Bush's public offer to give the Taliban a "second chance" to throw out bin Laden was designed to assure skeptical nations the United States was taking a fair approach in its pursuit of al-Qaida sanctuaries, U.S. officials had said Friday.

U.S. bombing of Afghanistan resumed Saturday after a respite for Friday's Muslim day of prayer.

The offer stood for the Taliban to consider, but the Bush administration launched no new diplomatic initiative to Kabul to try to cajole bin Laden's protectors to act on it, senior officials said.

Senior White House officials said Bush was under no illusion that the Taliban would comply, but the president had hoped that extending an olive branch would convince skeptical nations, particularly in the Arab world, that the United States was fair and patient.

In Islamabad, the spokesman for the Pakistani foreign ministry, Mohammed Riaz Khan, said, "The Taliban leadership is fully aware of the demands of the international community and there is a point of contact available in Islamabad in the shape of the Afghan Embassy."

The Voice of America broadcast the president's offer in Pashtu, thereby getting it to the Afghan people. Taliban radio was knocked off the air this week.


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