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Afghan girls fall ill after apparent gas poisoning

KABUL (Reuters) - About 40 schoolgirls became ill and were taken to hospital after a suspected gas poisoning in the Afghan capital Wednesday, another apparent attack by hardline Islamists opposed to female education.

The Taliban banned education for girls during their Afghan rule from 1996-2001, but have condemned similar attacks in the past. They have, however, set fire to dozens of schools, threatened teachers and even attacked schoolgirls in rural areas.

Wednesday's incident followed a similar pattern to other recent attacks at girls' schools involving an airborne substance which officials said could be some form of gas.

Asif Nang, a spokesman for the Education Ministry, said the girls, of differing ages from a school in Kabul's east, were being treated in hospital. Their illnesses were not believed to be serious.

"It looks like it is another case of gas poisoning, but it is being investigated now," he said.

The Afghan government, however, did not suggest who may have been responsible for the apparent attack.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Ron Popeski)