An earthquake rocked most of Israel at 10:15 this morning, and was felt from the north to the northern Negev. One worker was lightly hurt when he fell off scaffolding, and only a handful of other minor injuries were reported. Cracks were reported to have formed in some buildings - including the Knesset, where the main session was postponed for two hours until after engineers checked the building.



The epicenter of the earthquake - first thought to be 4.5 on the Richter scale, but later reported as a moderately-heavy 5 - is thought to be in the northern Dead Sea. Popular weatherman Danny Roop captured the feelings of most Israelis when he said, "Actually, what does it matter whether it was 4 or 5? The main thing is that all of us really felt it quite strongly."



Two buildings in the Tel Aviv area were reported to have partially collapsed, but these reports were soon found to be based on false alarms. Phone systems in the Tel Aviv area did collapse for a short while, however, due to heavy usage immediately after the quake. In Ein Gedi, close to the Dead Sea shore, nothing more serious than falling objects was reported. The shaking of the earth was felt in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and even in Egypt.



Officials in the Education Ministry, after consultation with Seismological Institute personnel, decided shortly before 11 AM that, because of the fear of aftershocks, all pupils must be kept outside their school buildings. Regular studies resumed shortly after noon, however. Conflicting reports were heard as to whether aftershocks could be expected.



In Hevron, the students of Yeshivat Shavei Hevron did not immediately leave their building, as they thought at first that the shaking was the result of a terrorist bombing. When it was ascertained that it was in fact an earthquake, the students gathered outside the yeshiva and recited the traditional blessing of "Who Performs an Act of Creation," and then evacuated to the nearby Avraham Avinu neighborhood.



The US Geological Survey says that several thousand shocks with magnitudes of about 4.5 or greater occur each year around the world.



The last major calamitous earthquake in Israel occurred in July 1927. Centered in Jericho, it killed several hundred people and left thousands homeless. It was estimated at 6.2 on today's Richter scale, or some 40 times stronger than today's quake. The last major earthquake to affect Israel was in 1995; it was centered under the Red Sea, about 70 kilometers south of Eilat, and caused only very minor structural damage.



Experts have been warning for years that Israel is due for another major earthquake in the coming years or decades. Earthquake scholar Dr. Ron Avni of Be'er Sheva University told Arutz-7's Moshe Priel that the feared quake could reach 7 on the Richter scale - releasing well over 900 times more energy than today's shake. "It's true," Avni said, "that Israel started, a few years ago, to prepare for a quake, including plans to strengthen threatened buildings, but unfortunately the work has stopped."



The prophet Zechariah foretells a cataclysmic earthquake in the Land of Israel when the Messiah comes to the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem. The mountain shall be split down the middle from east to west, forming an enormous valley to which people shall flee.