KABUL -- Afghans celebrated the first day of Eid ul Fitr on Thursday (May 13) with hope for peace as a three-day ceasefire agreed by the warring Taliban and Afghan government came into effect.
The truce offered respite for Afghans following weeks of intensified violence amid the ongoing withdrawal of US and NATO forces.
If the ceasefire holds, it will be only the fourth pause in fighting in nearly 20 years of conflict.
Early on Thursday, Afghan men, women and children around the country flocked to mosques or gathered in open grounds to offer morning prayers at the start of festivities that will last until Saturday.
Authorities deployed security personnel to prominent mosques in Kabul. They frisked worshippers who arrived for morning prayers.
Crowds of Kabul residents later packed the capital's main zoo and parks as they celebrated the festival with family and friends.
"I feel so relaxed and peaceful today because it is Eid and there is no fighting," said Mirajuddin, who was visiting Kabul zoo with his five children, all dressed in new clothes.
With the withdrawal of foreign forces, Kabul resident Mohammad Sadeq said there was no more justification in fighting.
"This is no more jihad," he said. "Now it is brothers killing brothers because both the Taliban and security forces are Afghans."
'War is not a solution'
The Taliban and government should agree on a permanent ceasefire, said Amir Jan Sulaimankhil, a resident of Nangarhar province.
"That will make us happier, as many more lives will be saved," he said.
President Ashraf Ghani used his annual Eid address to urge the Taliban to agree to a lasting truce now that international troops were leaving.
"We don't want you to surrender, but we want you to accept a political solution," he said. "War is not a solution."
Tens of thousands of Afghans have been killed and millions have been displaced during the war.
The militants and the Afghan government launched peace talks in September last year, but progress has stalled despite international efforts to jump-start the negotiations.
Ceasefires in the past have largely held, in what is widely thought to be an exercise by the Taliban leadership to prove it has firm control over the myriad factions across the country that make up the hardline movement.
There were no immediate reports of any violation of the ceasefire, said Afghan officials and the Taliban.
Uptick in violence ahead of Eid
Washington and NATO have pledged to withdraw their troops by September 11, leaving the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) in place to defend the country.
The US military has so far completed between 6%-12% of its final withdrawal, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The Afghan Defence Ministry announced Wednesday that it had taken control of Camp Morehead, a US base in Kabul where American troops trained the Afghan military.
Afghan special forces will now use the camp.
While the militants have avoided engaging American troops, they have stepped up attacks on Afghan government forces.
Violence has rocked several provinces in recent weeks, and on Tuesday the insurgents seized a district not far from Kabul.
"Security and defence forces made a tactical retreat from the police headquarters of Nerkh district," Interior Affairs Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian told AFP.
The Defence Ministry on Wednesday said it would launch an offensive to win back the district, around 40km (25 miles) from Kabul in neighbouring Maidan Wardak province.
"Commando reinforcements are on their way," said Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the ministry.
Last Saturday, a series of blasts outside a girls' school in Kabul killed more than 50 people, mostly teenage girls.
Families of victims were still in shock after the deaths of their loved ones.
"We were waiting for them to come home [from school]," said Rahima, whose two daughters were killed in the school blasts.
"They had left the house together, and later their bodies came together," she said as dozens of relatives offered condolences to her family on Thursday.
Officials blamed the Taliban, who denied they were involved in the attack in the Kabul neighbourhood.