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      Iran Quake Death Toll Rising

      Dozens more people died since twin earthquakes struck the towns of Ahar, Haris and Varzaqan in Iran's East Azerbaijan province Saturday.
      By Chana Ya'ar and Reuters
      First Publish: 8/13/2012, 9:11 PM

      Iranian President Ahmadinejad
      Iranian President Ahmadinejad
      Israel news photo: Flash 90

      Dozens more people have died since twin earthquakes struck the towns of Ahar, Haris and Varzaqan in Iran's East Azerbaijan province on Saturday.

      From an initial death toll of 250, the numbers have now reached as high as 306, including 219 women and children.

      More than 3,000 people were injured in the 6.3 and 6.4-magnitude temblors that struck northwestern Iran, according to Health Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastjierdi.

      Iran's Red Crescent Society spokesman Pouya Haijan told the ISNA news agency the organization can handle the crisis on its own. An unsolicited rescue team dispatched from Turkey was sent back, according to ISNA.

      Relief workers have been handing out tents in rural areas where accessibility is possible; but many roads and other infrastructure are heavily damaged. The health ministry has deployed ambulances and medics to the area, said Dastjerdi, but helicopters are needed.

      The disaster area, populated by approximately 300,000, is located near Armenia and Azerbaijan. More than 400 villages were moderately to heavily damaged, and at least a dozen were leveled completely.

      The minister reported to the country's parliament that nearly 50 people had died of their injuries in hospitals after having been extracted from the rubble. Some 2,000 others were treated for minor injuries and discharged. Aftershocks are still rattling the area, but international offers of assistance and medical aid have all been turned down.

      Meanwhile, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left, as planned, on Monday morning for Saudi Arabia to attend a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that was expected to focus on the crisis in Syria.

      But his overseas trip exposed him to criticism at home that he was not showing empathy with the disaster victims. In an editorial titled "Mr. Ahmadinejad, where have you gone?" Asr-e Iran criticised his decision to leave the country with his closest advisers less than two days after the quakes.

      "In every other part of the world, the tradition is that when natural disasters happen, leaders will change their plans and visit the affected areas in order to show their compassion ... and observe rescue efforts," Asr-e Iran wrote.