The death of Iranian twin sisters here yesterday after an unprecedented operation plunged their countrymen and sympathizers into grief as their wish to be separated was fulfilled with tragic results.
Twenty-nine years after being born joined at the head, Ladan and Laleh Bijani died within 90 minutes of each other at Singapore's Raffles Hospital after a team of specialists struggled in vain to save them.
The twins were determined to be separated at any cost despite being turned down by other doctors who deemed the operation too risky.
Many babies joined at the head have been separated before, but this was the first time doctors had tried the operation on adults.
In Tehran, Vice President Mohammad-Ali Abtahi said all Iranians had been left "distraught" by the failure of the operation.
"These last 29 years, from the announcement of their birth to the different moments in their painful lives, have now been engraved in the collective memory of the country," he said.
"Not only the family of Laleh and Ladan, but all the Iranian people have been closely following this operation. Their deaths make us all distraught."
Neurosurgeon Keith Goh, the head of the medical team that began operating on the sisters more than two days ago, told a news conference after their deaths that many people had been touched by the twins' personalities.
"We all feel very sad about it but life is like that. We will remember them in the best of times," the visibly weary doctor said.
Dehrouz Gholamrezaey, a businessman speaking for the Iranian community in Singapore, told reporters that the medical team "tried their best."
"The Iranian community is very grateful for their efforts. It was [the sisters'] desire to have the operation and this is their fate."
Loo Choon Yong, executive chairman of Raffles Medical Group which owns the hospital where the operation took place, said that the medical team knew the risks were great when they undertook the challenge to separate them.
"We knew that one of the scenarios was that we may lose both of them. Ladan and Laleh knew it too. We were hoping to do better than the worst odds but alas we didn't make it," Loo told a news conference.
"I hope all of us can remember them laughing and smiling as they went on through the journey."
After Ladan died at 2:30pm, members of the Iranian community in Singapore rushed to the hospital.
One woman wailed uncontrollably as she entered the hospital, where Singaporeans who had followed the twins' saga were already in tears.
Iran's government said the nation was already in "deep sorrow" following Ladan's death. Laleh died one and a half hours later.
"We were all hoping for a successful outcome of the operation. We were praying for them to be successfully separated, since that was their ultimate wish," Iranian government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh said.
Many Iranians have been glued to the television or radio to follow the progress of the operation, with state media providing minute-by-minute updates on the progress of the surgery.
Iran's ambassador to Indonesia, Shaban Shahidi Moadaab, who flew to Singapore on Monday, said the twins were named after fragile flowers, and "today these two flowers do not exist any more."
The diplomat said the Bijani twins' destiny was to be together but they decided to challenge this fate through science.