Red Cross adopts new emblem

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Delegates to an international conference have accepted a new Red Cross emblem, paving the way for Israel to join the humanitarian movement after nearly six decades of exclusion, officials said today.

The 192 signatories of the Geneva Conventions approved the new "red crystal" emblem by vote after last-ditch negotiations between Israel and Syria over Damascus' demands for humanitarian access to Syrian citizens in the Golan Heights broke down.

"I can inform you that the protocol has just been adopted," said Didier Pfirter, a Swiss diplomat who has been coordinating global efforts to muster support for the new emblem.

The new emblem is one that, for instance, Israeli paramedics could use during combat in place of the red cross or Muslim red crescent.

"Unfortunately, it has not been possible to adopt the protocol by consensus, but it has been adopted by a clear majority," said Pfirter.

Swiss officials said international law on such sensitive points is much better if it can be adopted without any objections, but that two-thirds majority vote was the next best option. The vote was 98 yes, 27 no and 10 abstentions, officials said. A number of small states were absent.

Magen David Adom, Israel's partner organisation with the Red Cross, will not operate under the cross or crescent. A request for recognition of its red Star of David emblem was rejected in 1949 and Arab countries have since blocked attempts to find an alternative symbol.

Before Syria would agree to a deal on the proposed "red crystal" emblem, Damascus demanded humanitarian access to Syrian citizens in the Golan Heights, which has been under Israeli control since the 1967 Middle East war.

A number of Muslim countries again tried to block Israel's path into the Red Cross movement early today, voting against the proposal after three days of negotiations in Geneva.

"The most important thing is the result," said Noam Yifrach, head of the Magen David Adom, after receiving a congratulatory call from Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, chairman of the board of governors of the American Red Cross. "Tomorrow, nobody will remember the numbers."