Holy Land sites shaken by small earthquake

 Architects are currently assessing damage to several pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land which were shaken by a moderate earthquake last Wednesday. The tremors, which measured 5.0 on the Richter scale, lasted 20 seconds and caused children in Jerusalem to rush out of their schools. No one was injured. Schools in Bethlehem and Ramallah sent pupils home for the day. Small fractures have appeared in the arched ceiling of the Church of St Catherine, from where Midnight Mass is broadcast around the world on Christmas Eve each year. Franciscan monk, Father Ibrahim Faltas, said: "Engineers from the local council came and said the cracks are not severe." Fr Faltas said he believed some splinters, barely visible, had also been made in the timber beams supporting the Church of the Nativity. He explained that repair work would begin soon. The church was fully restored in 1999 for the millennium celebrations marking 2,000 years since the birth of Christ. Parts of the tower of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church crashed into the streets below. The pastor of the church told Scotland on Sunday he was concerned that the building might now be unstable. The entire area, which has two major fault lines, is prone to earthquakes. The last major one was in 1927, and killed more than 200 people. Some experts believe another devastating earthquake is due to hit the region in the next 50 years. The damage is likely to be felt most severely in Jerusalem, home to key Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy sites. A report issued last month by Israel's Geological Survey found that the walled Old City of Jerusalem, with the Temple Mount , the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque, would be among the worst hit areas. "The layer below is not made of solid rock, but rather a kind of rubble," said the centre's director, Amos Bein. "Those weak foundations could magnify an earthquake's seismic wave."

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