December 6, 2005

Syrian demands hold up Red Cross emblem deal

GENEVA (Reuters) - Syrian demands for an accord giving it
first-aid access to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on
Tuesday held up an international agreement on creating a third
emblem for the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement.

Swiss officials said they were still hopeful an emblem deal
-- that would clear the way for Israel to join the movement --
could be reached and a formal protocol signed on Wednesday, a
day later than originally hoped.

"It is still not clear what will happen, but the hope is
still there that problems will be resolved," said one official,
who declined to be named.

Delegates declined comment as they emerged for an evening
break in the conference, called by Switzerland at the request
of the humanitarian movement and as depository state of the
Geneva Conventions that underpin it.

But diplomats said talks were under way through an
intermediary between Syria and Israel outside the conference
center in a bid to shape an agreement that would satisfy both
sides, who are formally at war.

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has been active
over the past year in clinching an agreement between Israel's
Magen David Adom (MDA) and the Palestinian Red Crescent. She
hoped the new emblem could be agreed by consensus.

Officials said if it was taken to a vote among 140
delegations present from the 192 who have signed the Geneva
Conventions, the outcome was uncertain as representatives of
many countries have indicated they have no voting instructions.

A two-third vote of delegations present is needed for the
emblem -- a red diamond on a white background in which Israel
could inscribe its Red Star of David.


"Our demands are legitimate and legal and must be heard,"
Syrian Minister of State Bashar al-Shaar told a news

"Our people suffer terribly through lack of medical
services," he said.

Syrian officials said they wanted a similar accord to that
signed between the MDA and the Palestinian Red Crescent last
week giving the latter sole responsibility for emergency
services in the occupied territories, seized along with the
Golan in the 1967 Middle East war.

In addition, they were asking for a hospital to be built in
the area and ambulances provided, said the head of the Syrian
Red Crescent, Abdul Rahman Al Attar.

Inside the emblem, national humanitarian agencies could
place any symbol that has been in use for an extended time --
such as the Red Star of David of Israel's Magen David Adom.

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.

However, they have largely 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.