At least 20 killed in suicide bombing in east Afghanistan

PULE ALAM, Afghanistan, (Reuters) – A suicide car  bomber killed at least 20 people, and possibly as many as 35, in  an attack at a hospital in a remote district of eastern  Afghanistan today that damaged its maternity ward,  officials said.
Estimates of the casualties, which included patients and  medical staff, varied widely in chaotic scenes outside the  hospital in the remote Azra district of eastern Logar province,  which is just south of Kabul.
Dozens more were wounded in one of the worst attacks this  year.
Deen Mohammad Darwish, a spokesman for the Logar provincial  government, said as many as 35 people were killed, although  Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry put the death toll at 20.
“The exact target is still not clear,” Interior minister  deputy spokesman Najib Nikzad said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied responsibility  and said the Islamist insurgents never attack hospitals.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack in which he said  “tens of civilians” were killed. The United Nations said the  maternity ward was hit in the bombing.
“This is a despicable attack against civilians who were  seeking medical care, as well as visiting family members and  health workers,” Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. chief in  Afghanistan, said in a statement.
Tensions have flared over civilian casualties, with  insurgents and the Afghan government alike criticising NATO-led  forces for killing innocent Afghans while hunting for militants.
United Nations figures however show that insurgents are  responsible for three-quarters of civilian deaths.
Military and civilian casualties hit record levels in 2010,  the most violent year of the war since U.S.-backed Afghan forces  toppled the Taliban in late 2001.
This year is following a similar trend, with violence  growing across Afghanistan since the Taliban announced a spring  offensive at the beginning of May.

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