- By Maryam Afshang & Feranak Amidi
- BBC World Service
Dozens of girls from 26 Iranian schools have reportedly been treated for poisoning in hospitals after a new wave of apparently poisonous gas attacks.
More than 1,000 students have been affected since November. They suffered from respiratory problems, nausea, dizziness and fatigue.
Many Iranians suspect the poisonings are a deliberate attempt to force girls’ schools to close.
But the government has not said whether it believes they were premeditated.
Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, who has been tasked by the president with finding the “root cause” of the poisonings, on Wednesday called “false” a report by the Fars news agency that three people had been arrested.
He also accused overseas-based groups and “mercenary groups” of taking advantage of the situation to wage psychological warfare and worry people.
Some students and parents have suggested that schoolgirls may have been targeted for participating in the recent anti-government protests.
At least 26 schools in five cities across Iran have been affected by the latest gas poisonings, local media and activists have said.
BBC Persian has verified videos showing ambulances arriving at schools and students being treated in hospitals in the capital Tehran, the northwestern city of Ardabil and the western city of Kermanshah.
Authorities are under increasing public pressure to stop the poisonings, which were initially centered in the Shia Muslim holy city of Qom, south of Tehran.
BBC Persian research found at least 830 students, mostly schoolgirls, were poisoned on Sunday, while an MP put the figure at 1,200 in Qom and the western city of Borujerd alone on Tuesday.
Affected people have reported the smell of tangerine or rotten fish before they got sick.
The chairman of the parliamentary education committee, Alireza Monadi-Sefidan, was quoted by Fars as saying on Tuesday that an investigation found the poisonous gas contained nitrogen.
However, the Home Secretary told reporters on Wednesday that reports that a specific chemical had been detected were incorrect.
A parent told the BBC that girls at their daughter’s school in the Tehran suburb of Pardis were poisoned on Tuesday.
“My daughter and two of her friends say they heard something like an explosion and immediately afterwards an unpleasant smell – something like burning plastic filled the air,” said the relative, whom the BBC does not identify for any reason. security reasons.
“They were asked to leave the classroom and go to the yard. A lot of students started collapsing in the yard. There are children with asthma and heart problems in my daughter’s class .”
“The ambulances and the police arrived. The paramedics gave the children milk.”
On Sunday, Deputy Health Minister Younes Panahi said it was “obvious that some people want all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed”, although he later said that his words had been misunderstood.
Some people have speculated that schoolgirls are being targeted as ‘revenge’ for their role in the mass protests that erupted in September after the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a young woman in police custody in the morals for allegedly failing to wear it. scarf “correctly”.
Authorities called the protests “riots” and responded with lethal force. Human rights groups reported that hundreds of protesters were killed, including dozens of children.
The woman then speaks to a young girl, who wonders if they were “chosen” because they had taken part in the demonstrations.
Public anger over the poisonings and the authorities’ response sparked further unrest.
Pardis’ parent said: “We arrived at school angry and worried. The parents started shouting slogans against [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei.”
“No one believes they are going to investigate these attacks,” they added. “I have no hope in the system. But I hope the world will hear our voice and stop supporting these child killers.”
Officials said 35 students from their daughter’s school were taken to hospital after the poisoning. But the parent said the actual number was much higher.
“From my conversations with the parents and the headmaster of the school, half of the students have been taken to the hospital. That’s at least 200 students.”
One of those children was in a coma, they said, adding: “Some parents have also refused to take their children to the hospital because they are afraid and do not trust the authorities.”