A bomb tore through a bustling fruit and vegetable market in thePakistani capital Islamabad Wednesday, killing at least 22 people in the latestviolence to hit government peace talks with the Taliban.The blast took place around 8:00 am (0300 GMT) at the wholesale market near thecapital's twin city Rawalpindi, as hundreds of grocers and sellers gathered to trade.The bombing -- the deadliest to hit Islamabad since a huge truck bomb at the
Marriott Hotel in 2008 -- left a 1.5-metre (five-foot) diameter crater and littered thesite with body parts and guava fruit drenched in blood, an AFP reporter at the scenesaid.Javaid Qazi, the vice-chancellor of the Pakistan Institute of Medical Scienceshospital, said 22 people had been killed and 96 wounded in the blast.The attack comes as the government tries to negotiate an end to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan's (TTP) seven-year campaign of violence.
Talks began between government and TTP intermediaries in February.The Taliban said it was not to blame for Wednesday's attack and has also deniedsome earlier bombings.The United Baluch Army (UBA), one of several armed separatist groups inBaluchistan, claimed responsibility for the bombing. The same group also claimed
responsibility for a bomb blast on a train on Tuesday, which killed 13 people in thesouthwestern town of Sibi.
"We carried out the attack in Islamabad in response to the military operationagainst us and we will launch more such attacks in other cities," said UBAspokesman Mureed Baluch.The Frontier Corps (FC) began an operation against insurgents early Monday in theKalat district, around 300 kilometres southwest of Quetta in which up to 40
insurgents were killed.More than 160 people have been killed in attacks since the start of the peaceprocess, leading many to question its worth. It is also unclear whether the umbrellaTaliban group can control all its factions.
- 'Bodies flying everywhere' -Eyewitness Muhammad Tahir described the bloody carnage as the bomb detonated.
"The blast took place around 8:00, when we were standing there -- bodies were flyingeverywhere, bodies were flying at the height of 20 to 25 feet," he told AFP.Ambulances were rushing in and out carrying wounded people and bodies.Senior local administration official Nauman Yousuf told AFP "it was a plantedbomb".A bomb disposal official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the device hiddenin a fruit box weighed five to six kilograms (11 to 13 pounds) and was packed withnuts and bolts to cause maximum carnage.Thousands have been killed in militant violence since the TTP rose up against thePakistani state in 2007. But attacks on the capital, much of which is heavily guarded,have been rare in recent years.Wednesday's blast came a little over a month after a gun and suicide bomb attackon a court complex in Islamabad killed 11 people including a judge.The TTP also denied that attack, which was claimed by the Ahrar-ul-Hind splintergroup which rejects the peace process.Fighting has erupted in northwest Pakistan between rival TTP factions since Sunday,and nine more people including two civilians were killed on Wednesday.The clashes pitting supporters of Khan Said Sajna against followers of the lateHakimullah Mehsud, the TTP commander killed by a US drone in November, havekilled a total of 43 people in four days.The government has freed more than 30 Taliban prisoners in the past week to try tospur talks with the militants, and on Friday the TTP said they would extend aceasefire begun on March 1.On March 26 a four-member government committee held its first direct meetingwith members of the TTP's political council in North Waziristan tribal district.
There have been suggestions that high-profile figures held by the militants,including the son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, could be freed inreturn.The peace talks were a key campaign pledge by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif beforehe was elected to office for a third time last year.But some analysts have voiced scepticism about their chances for success, given theTaliban's demands for nationwide sharia law and a withdrawal of troops from thelawless tribal zones.Regional deals struck in the past between the military and the Taliban have failed
and some have accused the militants of using them as a means to regroup andrearm.