December 5, 2005

Red Cross deal allowing Israel is seen close

By Robert Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) - Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline
Calmy-Rey expressed confidence on Monday that a long-running
squabble over how Israel can be brought into the Red Cross/Red
Crescent family was close to resolution.

The minister was speaking at the opening of a two-day
conference of the global movement called to discuss creation of
a new, third -- and totally neutral -- emblem that could be
used by humanitarian workers in conflict situations.

"The adoption of an additional emblem free of any national,
political or religious connotation will put at our disposal an
additional instrument for the protection of both civilian and
military health services on the field of battle..." she said.

"It would also help protect humanitarian workers in
situations where the present two emblems "are not sufficiently
recognized and respected."

The emergence of a consensus on a new emblem over the past
few weeks -- which have seen Israeli and Palestinian emergency
services sign a Swiss-mediated pact linked to it -- "has opened
up the process which we hope to see crowned with success at
this conference," Calmy-Rey added.

The emblem, displayed by movement officials for
photographers at the opening of the gathering, is in the form
of an equilateral diamond-shaped red crystal on a white

Inside it, national humanitarian agencies which want to be
part of the overall movement could place any symbol that has
been in use for an extended time -- like Israel's Magen David
Adom's Red Star of David.


For years Islamic states, whose crescent emblem was added
to that of the cross as a joint symbol for the movement in
1983, have resisted recognition of Israel's first aid body's
red star.

But they have relaxed their approach following persistent
diplomatic efforts by Switzerland -- depository of the Geneva
Conventions which set out agreed parameters for humanitarian
work -- for action to break the deadlock.

The movement is built around the International Federation
of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which links national
bodies and focuses on disaster relief, and the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), whose prime mandate is
aiding wounded in conflict situations and visiting prisoners.

Both organizations are based in Geneva, often dubbed the
world's humanitarian capital.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger told the conference that
the movement needed support of the 192 countries who have
signed the Geneva Conventions "to reach universality and fulfil
its mission as well as it can."

Swiss officials say the Israeli-Palestinian accord, signed
in Geneva on November 28 and allowing the Palestinian Red
Crescent to operate as the sole first aid service in occupied
territories, appeared to have removed remaining obstacles.

But a similar deal still has to be concluded between
Israeli and Syrian first aid bodies to cover the
Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Calmy-Rey said indirect talks
between the two had just begun but had already seen progress.