By Humeyra Pamuk
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iranian security forces may have killed more than 1,000 people since protests over gasoline price hikes began in mid-November, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said on Thursday, adding that many thousands were also wounded in the unrest.
"As the truth is trickling out of Iran, it appears the regime could have murdered over a thousand Iranian citizens since the protests began," Hook told reporters at a briefing at the State Department.
Among those were at least a dozen children, Hook said, but cautioned that the numbers were not definitive as Tehran blocked information. He said that "many thousands of Iranians" had also been wounded and at least 7,000 detained in Iran's prisons.
The unrest, which began on Nov. 15 after the Iranian government abruptly raised fuel prices by as much as 300%, spread to more than 100 cities and towns and turned political as young and working-class protesters demanded clerical leaders step down.
Tehran has given no official death toll but Amnesty International said on Monday it had documented the deaths of at least 208 protesters, making the disturbances the bloodiest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Tehran’s clerical rulers have blamed “thugs” linked to its opponents in exile and the country’s main foreign foes - the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia - for the unrest.
The struggle of ordinary Iranians to make ends meet has become harder since last year, when U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from Tehran’s nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have further crippled Iran's oil-based economy.
Hook also said a U.S. Navy warship seizing advanced missile parts believed to be linked to Iran from a boat it stopped in the Arabian Sea on Nov. 25 was likely further proof of Tehran's efforts to inflame conflict in the region.
"We interdicted a significant hoard of weapons and missile parts evidently of Iranian origin. The seizure includes sophisticated weapons," he said, adding that the vessel was reportedly heading to Yemen to deliver the weapons.
"The weapon components comprise the most sophisticated weapons seized by the U.S. Navy to date during the Yemen conflict," Hook said.
In recent years, U.S. warships have intercepted and seized Iranian arms likely bound for Iran-aligned Houthi fighters.
Under a United Nations resolution, Tehran is prohibited from supplying, selling or transferring weapons outside the country unless approved by the Security Council. A separate U.N. resolution on Yemen bans the supply of weapons to Houthi leaders.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Tom Brown)