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Moderate earthquake rocks Middle East countries

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Tel Aviv/Amman (dpa) - A moderate earthquake rocked countries in the Middle East on Wednesday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the streets in panic.
There were no reports of serious casualties or serious damage from the mid-morning tremor, which was felt in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The epicentre of the quake was in the northern Dead Sea region, bordering Israel and Jordan, Israeli radio reports said.

''There was a feeling the earth was opening its mouth and we were sliding into the Dead Sea'' a resident of the area was quoted as saying on Israel Radio.

In Israel the quake measured five on the Richter scale and lasted for about 25 seconds, while sources at the Syrian meteorological office reported it lasted for about 10 seconds and had a magnitude of 5.5 on the Richter scale.

''I pulled my baby from his bed and rushed outside as soon as I noticed the building shaking,'' said a 40-year-old woman in the Jordanian capital Amman.

Another Amman resident said the tremor sent light fixtures and pictures in his home tumbling to the floor.

In Israel, office workers in Tel Aviv were evacuated from their buildings as a precaution. Schools were ordered to evacuate pupils to school years until early afternoon as a safety precaution.

Two cracks were reported in the Knesset (parliament) building in Jerusalem, one of them in the decorative ceiling of the plenum hall, which legislators have taken to calling the 'guillotine' as it is made up of 12 long plaster beams which hang over their heads.

''It would fall right on the heads of the ministers and those sitting in the front rows of the various factions. The back benches have no reason to worry, even during an earthquake,'' Speaker Ruby Rivlin said.

A scheduled parliamentary session was postponed out of concern that the roof might collapse.

Elsewhere in Israel, part of an apartment building collapsed in the town of Kiryat Ono, east of Tel Aviv and a building under construction in the northern city of Acre crumpled.

Israel is located on the Syrian-African great rift which runs 4,800 kilometres from Mozambique to Syria and stands over a friction area between two tectonic plates.

The last earthquake registered in the region was felt on December 31st 2003. Epi-centred at Kibbutz Ein Gedi, near the Dead Sea, it measured 3.7 on the Richter scale.

The most destructive earthquake in the region this century occurred on July 11, 1927, when a quake measuring 6.2 in the Richter scale killed more than 300 people and damaged more than 1,000, buildings in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Jericho, Nablus and Tiberius.

Experts in Israel have been warning for some time that the region could expect another quake.

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