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At the time of the opening of the Tethys Ocean the northern edge of Gondwana was affected by several rifting events. In this study, we used data from deep exploration wells, seismic profiles, and seismic depth maps to reconstruct the pattern of Tethyan rifting in the Levant region and to investigate its effects on the evolution of the Levant crust.

The results show a several hundred kilometre wide deformation zone, comprised of graben and horst structures that extend from the inner part of the Levant to the marine basin offshore Israel. The structures are dominated by sets of NE–SW and NNE–SSW oriented normal faults with vertical offsets in the range of 1–8 km. Rifting was associated with a NW–SE direction of extension, approximately perpendicular to the present-day Mediterranean coast. Faulting activity progressed over a period of 120 Ma and took place in three main pulses: Late Palaeozoic (Carboniferous to Permian); Middle to Late Triassic; and Early to Middle Jurassic. The last, and the most intense, tectonic phase post-dates the activity in other rifted margins of northern Gondwana.

Rifting was associated with the modification and stretching of the Levant crust. Our results demonstrate an extension discrepancy between the brittle deformation in the upper crust and the amount of total crustal thinning. Seismic reflection data shows that the Levant Basin lacks the characteristics of typical rifted margins, either volcanic or non-volcanic. The evolution of the basin may be explained by depth-dependant stretching, associated with the upwelling of divergent mantle flow and removal of lower crustal layers by decoupling along deep detachment faults.

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