Seismology centres across the region reported the quake on Wednesday was followed by several smaller aftershocks, but they differed over the exact location of its epicentre around the Dead Sea. 

Israeli seismologists were quoted by public radio as saying the 20-second quake hit at 10:10 am (0810 GMT) and that it measured 4.5 on the open-ended Richter scale. They placed the epicentre north of the Dead Sea. 

In Jerusalem, many buildings were evacuated as a precaution, and the radio reported two buildings suffered minor damage, including one in Tel Aviv. 

"A number of the Israeli Knesset offices were partially damaged," Aljazeera correspondent Shereen Abu Aqla reported.

"The tremor was first believed to be an explosion but was later confirmed as a quake," she added. "A building under construction in Akka was destroyed and a number of old houses in Nablus were evacuated, for fear of more quakes," she added.

Panic

In Jordan, four construction workers in the Dead Sea area
suffered minor concussions and were treated in hospital, the state Petra news agency said. 

A small landslide came down near a hotel at the hotspring town of Main, just north of the Dead Sea, but narrowly missed causing casualties or damage, it added. 

"I was sitting at the office and suddenly I felt the earth trembling. I have never experienced anything like this in my life."

Lana Sweiss,
Jordanian architect

The quake triggered panic across Amman and neighbouring towns. Employees in the capital rushed out of offices and telephone lines were cut. Schoolchildren were given the day off. 

"I was sitting at the office and suddenly I felt the earth trembling," Lana Swaiss, a 27-year-old Jordanian architect told Aljazeera.net. "I have never experienced anything like this in my life," said Swaiss, adding that she and her employees were asked to take the day off. "We were told that another big tremor is on the way."

Jordan's Energy Minister Azmi Khraisat said the quake measured 4.9 on the Richter scale and placed the epicentre southeast of the Dead Sea region. 

"A series of small tremors were felt since the early morning,
with the largest one occurring at 10:14 am (0814 GMT)," Khreisat told Petra. 

No casualties in Damascus

Employees in Amman  have
rushed  out of offices in panic

The tremor was also felt in Damascus, southern Syria and Lebanon, although the Syrian state Sana news agency reported no casualties or damage. 

The Syrian National Seismological Center said the quake hit at 0814 GMT, but said it measured between 4.9 and 5.1 on the Richter scale. It said the epicentre was located south of the Dead Sea. 

Tremors were also felt in parts of Egypt, said Aly Taylab, the
director of the National Institute for Astronomy and Geophysical Studies. The institute put the temblor at 5.8 on the Richter scale. 

The Dead Sea is the lowest body of water on Earth. It currently lies at 415 meters  below sea level after having dropped by three meters over the past three years. 

Earthquakes with a magnitude of about five are often widely
felt, but rarely cause damage. At six and above there is usually damage to poorly constructed buildings and other structures within 10kms of the epicentre. 

Damage from an earthquake also varies greatly according to
distance from the epicentre, ground conditions and local
construction standards.