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Schoolgirls in Iran hospitalised after suspected poisonings

Dozens of students have been hospitalized in Hamedan, Zanjan, West Azerbaijan, Fars and Alborz provinces, according to local media.

Dozens of Iranian schoolgirls in five provinces have been hospitalized in a suspected new spate of poisoning attacks, local media reported.

Hundreds of cases of respiratory distress have been reported in recent months among schoolgirls across the country, mainly in the holy city of Qom, south of Tehran, with some requiring hospitalization.

The illnesses remain unexplained and Iranian officials believe the girls may have been poisoned and have blamed Tehran’s enemies.

Tasnim and Mehr news agencies on Saturday reported the latest incidents in western Hamedan province, as well as Zanjan and West Azerbaijan in northwestern Iran, Fars in the south and Alborz province in the north.

Dozens of students were transferred to local hospitals for treatment, the reports said.

The Reuters news agency reported that illness hit more than 30 schools in at least 10 of Iran’s 31 provinces on Saturday.

Videos posted to social media showed parents gathering at schools to take their children home and some students being taken to hospitals by ambulances or buses.

On Friday, President Ebrahim Raisi said the suspected cases of poisoning were “a conspiracy by the enemy to instill fear and despair in the people.”

Iran’s interior minister said on Saturday that investigators had found “suspicious samples” that were being studied.

“Suspicious samples have been found in field studies, which are being examined … to identify the causes of the students’ illness, and the results will be published as soon as possible,” said the minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, in a statement carried by the official news agency IRNA.

At least ten girls’ schools were targeted in suspected poisoning attacks on Wednesday, according to local media, seven in the northwestern city of Ardabil and three in the capital Tehran.

Last week, Iran’s deputy health minister Younes Panahi said the attacks were aimed at stopping girls’ education.

Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Tehran, said many parents have said they will keep their daughters at home “until there is a response from officials,” Jazeera said.

“We know that most (government schools) have security cameras outside and inside the institutions. The question now is why the officials have not been able to find any leads in these cases.

“This is alarming in a country where women have one of the highest literacy rates in the Middle East. More than 95 percent of women in Iran are educated and this is certainly a new phenomenon.”

The United Nations Human Rights Office in Geneva on Friday called for a transparent investigation into the suspected attacks, and countries such as Germany and the United States have expressed concern.

The string of suspected poisonings came more than five months in nationwide protests following the death in custody of Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini, 22, who was arrested for allegedly violating strict dress codes for women.

Tehran says hundreds have been killed and thousands arrested in connection with the protests, which authorities have generally described as “riots”.