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A major earthquake may destabilize the foundations of Jerusalem-area schools and kill thousands of pupils, a Jerusalem municipal official warned yesterday.

"If a quake hits between 8 A.M. and 1 P.M., a whole generation will be lost," Avraham Ben Nun told a special Knesset committee investigating earthquake preparedness.

Ben Nun told the committee that an earthquake shelter developed by the Jerusalem municipality has been built in only one school. In a previous session, the committee criticized the shelter because it resembled a cage.

Located on the Afro-Syrian rift, Israel is hit by a major quake once a century on average. Last month, a 5.3-magnitude tremor was felt in most parts of the country, raising fears about the possibility of an imminent destructive earthquake.

Ministry of Education officials told the committee last month that a large-scale earthquake endangered over half of Israel's pupils, who study at schools built before 1980, the year earthquake building standards were introduced.

Tiberias Mayor Zohar Oved told the committee that a hotel in his city was situated directly over a fault line. Oved said that Efraim Laor, the head of an inter-ministerial committee in charge of earthquake preparedness, rejected his request to close the hotel.

"The hotel is worth NIS 50 million," Laor was quoted as saying by Oved. "The entire city is located at the meeting point of tectonic plates, perhaps the entire city should be evacuated."

Oved rebuked the government for its alleged lack of preparedness. "We're on borrowed time. It could happen any second. My sense is that there's a lot of theoretical talk going on. We need to raise a cry."