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Dozens of Iran girls hospitalized in new school poisoning

TEHRAN — Dozens of schoolgirls in Iran were hospitalized on Tuesday after a mysterious poisoning, an Iranian news agency reported, the latest in a spate of suspected attacks in the Islamic republic.

Hundreds of cases of respiratory distress have been reported in the past three months among Iranian schoolgirls mainly in the holy city of Qom, south of Tehran, with some needing hospitalisation.

A government official said on Sunday that the attacks were believed to be a deliberate attempt to force the closure of girls' schools.

"Today at noon, a number of students were poisoned at the Khayyam Girls' School in the city of Pardis, Tehran province," Tasnim news agency reported.

Thirty-five students had been transferred to hospital so far, Tasnim said, adding to the hundreds of cases of poisoning since November in at least two other cities including Qom.

The poisonings come more than five months into protests that spread across Iran after death in custody of 22-year-old Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini after her arrest for an alleged violation of the country's strict dress code for women.

On Sunday, students at a girls' school in Borujerd were rushed to hospital after a similar incident, the fourth in the western city within the past week.

Iran's parliament held a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the suspected attacks in the presence of Health Minister Bahram Eynollahi, the official IRNA news agency reported.

It quoted speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf as saying that both Qom and Borujerd were "dealing with student poisonings."

On Sunday, Iran's deputy health minister, Younes Panahi, said some people had been poisoned at a girls' school in Qom, with the aim of shutting down education for girls.

"After the poisoning of several students in Qom schools, it was found that some people wanted all schools, especially girls' schools, to be closed," IRNA quoted him as saying at the time.

He did not elaborate. So far, there have been no arrests linked to the poisonings.

Activists have compared those responsible for the attacks on schools to the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Boko Haram in the Sahel, who oppose girls' education.

On February 14, parents of students who had been ill had gathered outside Qom's governorate to "demand an explanation" from the authorities, IRNA reported.

The following day, government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi said the intelligence and education ministries were trying to find the cause of the poisonings.

Last week, Iran's prosecutor general Mohammad Jafar Montazeri ordered a judicial probe into the incidents.

Qom lawmaker Ahmad Amiri Farahani denounced the attack on the schoolgirls as an "irrational act," stressing that residents of the holy city "support girls' education."

On Tuesday, former reformist vice-president Massoumeh Ebtekar expressed regret over the "repeat of the crime of poisoning girls" and called on the authorities "to put an end to misogynistic fanatics once and for all." — Agence France-Presse