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Moderate earthquake rattles nerves in northern Iran

The magnitude 5.1 quake hit just before 9 pm, reportedly causing panic in several northern towns.

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Iranian women and a child stand outside their damaged house in the village of Chah Ghanbar after an earthquake struck southeastern Iran in December 2010. (HAMID SADEGHI/AFP/Getty Images)

Iranian media say a moderate earthquake has shaken a town on the country's northern Caspian Sea coast, according to The Associated Press.

Citing the semi-official Fars news agency, the AP said the tremblor struck the town of Sari in populous Mazandaran province about 265 km (165 miles) north of the capital, Tehran, shortly before 9 pm local time.

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Iran's government-aligned PressTV reported said on its website that the epicenter of the magnitude 5.1 earthquake had been pinpointed by US Geological Survey at 20.1 km (12.5 miles) below ground.

In addition to Sari, the tremors caused panic in the cities of Neka and Behshahr and was also felt as far away as Tehran, according to PressTV, which said there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

Iran experiences light earthquakes on a daily basis as it is located on a seismic fault line, according to the AP. About 26,000 people died in 2003 when a magnitude 6.6 earthquake flattened the southeastern city of Bam, a popular tourist destination.

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The devastation of the 2003 earthquake caused a momentary thaw in Iranian-U.S. relations. However tensions with Western nations over Iran's nuclear program have escalated as new sanctions and a likely European oil embargo have caused Tehran to threaten hostile actions, such blocking oil exports through the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran today blamed Israel for the apparent assassination of a nuclear scientist who worked the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in Isfahan province.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/120111/moderate-earthquake-rattles-nerves-northern-iran