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At least 30 schoolgirls hospitalised after suspected gas attack

At least 30 schoolgirls in northern Afghanistan are injured in the fifth such incident at a girls' school in under a month.

At least 30 schoolgirls in northern Afghanistan were hospitalised yesterday after a suspected poisonous gas attack on their school, a health official said, the fifth such incident in under a month. The head of a hospital in the city of Kunduz said an unidentified airborne substance was released close to the school, and 30 students were admitted to the hospital as a result. "Others are also coming in. We don't know the exact number of girls affected, it could be many. It's a similar incident to what happened in Kabul and Kunduz last week," said Homayun Khamosh.

Three suspected poison gas attacks on girls' schools have taken place in Kunduz over the past few weeks and last week 22 schoolgirls and three teachers fell ill when their school was struck by suspected poison gas in the capital Kabul. It was not clear who was responsible. In the past officials have blamed such incidents on the Taliban but last week a spokesman for the Islamist group denied involvement in such attacks and condemned them.

Samples of the substances from last week's incident were sent abroad for testing, officials have said, but they have yet to be identified. The Taliban banned education for girls when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, and in many rural areas where the Taliban hold sway, girls' schools remain closed, teachers have been threatened and some girls have been attacked with acid. Attacks on girls' schools using suspected poisonous gas have increased since last year. In most cases the girls reported smelling something sweet, then fainting, dizziness and vomiting. None of the cases was fatal.

* Reuters