Knesset sessions began two hours late yesterday so the legislature building could be inspected for damage from the 10:15 A.M. earthquake that shook the country.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, MK (Likud), called in a construction engineer and safety consultant to assess the situation and determine whether it was safe to allow the plenum session to go ahead.

There were some fears parts of the legislature's acoustic ceiling could come down, or that decorative elements hanging from the ceiling could be dislodged and fall on the MKs. Safety engineer Yossi Gordon examined the area and gave the all clear to go ahead.

The examination of the Knesset building revealed cracks in some walls, in particular in the Shas faction room on the fifth floor. A photograph of President Moshe Katsav had fallen off the wall in Rivlin's office and a crack was found between two parts of the decorative ceiling on the floor used by the cabinet.

The Knesset House Committee is due next week to debate "the system's lack of readiness for an earthquake." House Committee Chairman Yuri Stern, MK (National Union), yesterday said he had frequently warned of the dangers of earthquakes and the lack of readiness by all the country's systems. Stern defined the lack of preparation as bordering on criminal negligence.

"The tremor that struck nationwide yesterday was a warning light and a reminder of the catastrophe that could occur if there were a much stronger earthquake," said the chair of the Knesset's Science and Technology Committee, Melli Polishuk-Bloch, MK (Shinui). She added that figures at the disposal of the Science and Technology Committee indicated that a strong earthquake was likely to claims the lives of 5,000-10,000 people.

"The government of a country that lies on the Syrian-African Rift Valley fault line, and in a region that has already experienced severe earthquakes, cannot be nonchalant," Polishuk-Bloch said.

Meretz lawmaker Ran Cohen said the earthquake that shook the country yesterday was a serious nudge for the Knesset and government to support a law proposal concerning earthquakes that he had presented to the legislature last year. Cohen said that at the time, he had agreed to postpone voting on the bill after the cabinet had asked for time to formulate its position on the matter. Until today, Cohen said, the cabinet had failed to do so.

He added that the need for legislation had arisen following publication of the State Comptroller's Report No. 51, which determined that a strong earthquake in Israel could claim the lives of thousands of people, cause the collapse of some 3,700-7,800 buildings, and leave another 30,000 or so seriously damaged.

After the tremor Likud MK Ayoub Kara sent Rivlin a letter in which he told of his fears at the time of the incident. "Frightened, scared and helpless, I left the Knesset House Committee when the terrifying earthquake occured yesterday," Kara wrote. "I regret that in this important house, there are no clear responses and procedures to deal with such a bewildering and life-threatening danger - neither escape routes, nor the appropriate actions," he wrote.

Kara also demanded an urgent debate on the matter. Labor lawmaker Ophir Pines-Paz joined Kara's call for an urgent discussion on the subject.