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The quakes hit the towns of Ahar, Haris and Varzaqan in East Azerbaijan province, state television reported. In addition to 20 villages destroyed, more than 130 others sustained heavy damage, state TV said.

The aftershocks were felt in a wide region near the Caspian Sea, causing panic among the people.

Officials have announced two days of mourning in East Azerbaijan province.

Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said the government will allocate funds to rebuild the houses destroyed in the quake, aiming to complete the construction before the arrival of cold winter temperatures.

Mr. Najjar said the plans aim to construct buildings resistant to earthquake. Most of houses in rural areas are built of mud, and they can crumble when even a moderate quake hits.

Iran is located on seismic fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. It experiences at least one earthquake every day on average, although most are so small they go unnoticed. In 2003, some 26,000 people were killed by a magnitude-6.6 quake that flattened the historic southeastern city of Bam.

According to Mr.  Najjar, several foreign countries have offered assistance, but he said Iran doesn’t need outside help and can manage the situation. He did not name the countries.