April 13. 2024. 6:49

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Authorities in Iran investigate series of gas poisonings at 30 girls’ schools

The Iranian authorities have stepped up efforts to investigate toxic gas poisonings at 30 girls’ schools that have hospitalised more than 700 pupils, compelled parents to keep girls at home, and prompted demands for virtual classes until perpetrators are caught.

The latest incident took place on Tuesday at the Khayyam girls’ school in the Pardis suburb on the northeastern outskirts of the capital, and resulted in 35 students being hospitalised.

On Sunday, a school in the western city of Borujerd was targeted for the fourth time within a week. At least one boys’ school has also been struck.

Students have reported that homemade bombs thrown into school yards and rooms have emitted gas smelling of mint, rotten fish, chlorine or tangerines, and causing headaches, respiratory problems, fainting and lethargy.

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Poisonings began at the end of November in the holy city of Qom, where repeated subsequent attacks have closed schools. Local authorities initially blamed the poisonings on carbon monoxide emitted by natural gas that heats the country’s schools. However, this explanation was soon dismissed, and ultraconservatives were accused of trying to shut down female education, overthrow the government and install a Taliban-type regime, Iranian media reported.

Deputy health minister Younes Panahi said: “After the poisoning of several students in Qom schools, it was found that some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed,” the Iranian news agency reported.

Former Iranian reformist vice-president Massoumeh Ebtekar criticised the repeated incidents and urged the authorities “to put an end to misogynistic fanatics once and for all”.

Others claim the attacks have been carried out by regime loyalists in revenge for protests led by women and girls against the clerical government. Countrywide demonstrations erupted in mid-September after Mahsa Amini (23) was detained for alleged failure to wear a headcovering in accordance with government standards, and died in morality police custody. During subsequent unrest more than 500 protesters were killed, thousands injured and 20,000 arrested, according to Iranian rights groups.

Since Iran’s clerical government assumed power in 1979, female adult literacy has more than tripled from 24 to 81 per cent, girls who finished primary schooling has increased from 36 to 99 per cent, and women in higher education has risen from 3 to 59 per cent, according to the US Institute of Peace, which promotes global conflict resolution.

Separately, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported that Iran has enriched uranium to 84 per cent, approaching the 90 per cent weapons-grade level. This prompted US undersecretary of defence for policy Colin Kahl to claim Iran could produce “one bomb’s worth of fissile material [in] about 12 days”, rather than the 12 months previously estimated.

US-Iran experts responded by saying having the ability to produce fissile material does not mean Iran can make or intends to make a nuclear device. Iranian officials have said IAEA chief Raphael Grossi is expected to visit Tehran in the coming days.