updated 5:23 PM EDT, Wed May 23, 2012
Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- More than 120 girls and three teachers were admitted to an Afghanistan hospital Wednesday after being poisoned in their classes with a type of spray, a Takhar provincial official said. The incident occurred in the provincial capital of Talokhan, in the Bibi Hajera girls school, said Dr. Hafizullah Safi, director of public health for the northern Afghanistan province. Forty of the 122 girls were still hospitalized, he said, with symptoms including dizziness, vomiting, headaches and loss of consciousness.
Blood samples have been sent to Kabul in an effort to determine the substance used, he said. "A number of girls from 15 to 18 were brought from a school to hospital today," said hospital director Dr. Habibullah Rostaqi.
"Generally they are not in a critical condition. We are looking after them, but let's see what happens later. We understand so far from the situation ... they are more traumatized."
"The Afghan people know that the terrorists and the Taliban are doing these things to threaten girls and stop them going to school," said Khalilullah Aseer, spokesman for Takhar police. "That's something we and the people believe. Now we are implementing democracy in Afghanistan and we want girls to be educated, but the government's enemies don't want this."
There have been several instances of girls being poisoned in schools in recent years. In April, also in Takhar province, more than 170 women and girls were hospitalized after drinking apparently poisoned well water at a school. Local health officials blamed the acts on extremists opposed to women's education.
While nearly all the incidents involve girls, earlier this month nearly 400 boys at a school in Khost province fell ill after drinking water from a well that a health official said may have been poisoned.
The Taliban is struggling with the country's government over Afghan schools. It recently demanded the closure of schools in two eastern provinces. In Ghazni province, the school closure was in retaliation for the government's ban on motorbikes often used by insurgents. Locals in Wardak province said the Taliban has been a little more lenient and has allowed schools to open late after making changes to the curriculum.
The battle indicates broader fears about Afghanistan's future amid the drawdown of U.S. troops in the country. NATO leaders on Monday signed off on U.S. President Barack Obama's exit strategy from Afghanistan, which calls for an end to combat operations next year and the withdrawal of the U.S.-led international military force by the end of 2014.
During the Taliban's rule from 1996 to 2001, many Afghan girls were not allowed to attend school. The schools began reopening after the regime was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. However, observers say abuse of women remains common in the post-Taliban era and is often accepted in conservative and traditional families, where women are barred from school and sometimes [! only sometimes?] subjected to domestic violence.
Afghan Education Minister Dr. Farooq Wardak told the Education World Forum in London in January 2011 that the Taliban had abandoned its opposition to education for girls, but the group has never confirmed that.