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Rockets Fired by Afghan Rebels Hit Airliner Just Before Takeoff; 2 Killed

<i> From Reuters</i>

Rebel rockets destroyed an airliner at Jalalabad airport Tuesday and killed two passengers but an unknown number of other occupants managed to escape, an Afghan government official said.

He said the plane, a Soviet-built Antonov AN-32 of the Afghan air force--a type often used for civilian transport within the country--was hit as it was about to take off from Jalalabad for Kabul, 70 miles to the West.

Artillery and missile attacks on Jalalabad have increased sharply in recent days, and officials are convinced that the rebels have made it a prime target.

Three weeks, ago the last of an estimated 115,000 Soviet troops completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan following a debilitating, nine-year war against Moslem rebels opposed to Kabul’s pro-Moscow Marxist government.

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Rebel leaders meeting in Pakistan last month elected an interim government. But the interim government has not been recognized by any country, including the United States and Pakistan, the guerrillas’ main backers.

They are thought to be holding off recognition until the rebels, or mujahideen , can capture at least one major city and declare it their provisional capital. Jalalabad, with 1 million people, is their apparent choice.

“Their main aim is Jalalabad, and it is under a lot of pressure,” he said. “But our soldiers are fighting even better than when the Soviet forces were here.”

Mujahideen reports recently said that 40% of Jalalabad’s buildings had been destroyed, but the official said this was greatly exaggerated.He said the city’s defenses were holding at all points and that the road to Kabul is open.

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