Security Forces Drive Out Rebels Holed Up in Interior Ministry
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ A dozen rockets slammed into the Afghan capital Thursday night as pro- government forces sought to drive out renegade Iranian-backed guerrillas occupying the Interior Ministry.
The fighting was the latest in a series of street battles that have threatened a scheduled transfer of power on Monday.
Rebel factions have been locked in a power struggle since President Najibullah was toppled in April, ending a 14-year civil war. Hundreds have died in the fighting.
Thursday’s fighting was between Hezb-E-Wahadat, a coalition of eight rebel parties armed and supported by Iran, and rebel factions within the Islamic government that replaced Najibullah’s communist regime.
The 400-Bed Jamhuriat Hospital, the closest to the fighting, closed its doors Thursday after doctors and nurses fled, fearing they would be trapped in the fighting. There were reports of an undetermined number of casualties.
It is feared that the fighting will intensify as the caretaker president steps down Monday.
Sibghatullah Mojaddidi is scheduled to hand power to Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former theology professor, under an agreement signed by the major guerrilla factions after Najibullah’s government collapsed.
But Mojaddidi has said he does not want Rabbani to replace him. Serious rifts also divide other mujahedeen leaders.
On Wednesday, Iranian-backed fighters attacked the Mustafa Hotel, where Rabbani’s bodyguards were quartered. Twenty people died in the fighting, said the hotel’s owner, Taher Faizi, who recently returned from exile in Ridgefield Park, N.J.
Witnesses said the shooting broke out Wednesday evening after Rabbani’s bodyguards tried to stop two carloads of heavily armed Hezb-e-Wahadat guerrillas who had tried to run a roadblock.
Faizi said Rabbani’s guards were joined by men loyal to the defense minister, Ahmed Shah Masood. He said the pro-Iranian guerrillas were reinforced by comrades who were occupying the nearby Interior Ministry.
The pro-Iranian gorup battled its way into the hotel and looted an ammunition storage room, then withdrew after the Defense Ministry sent reinforcements, witnesses said.