June 22, 2006

Israeli, Palestinian relief groups join Red Cross

By Laura MacInnis

GENEVA (Reuters) - The Red Cross and Red Crescent
humanitarian movement accorded membership on Thursday to the
Israeli and Palestinian relief organizations, ending nearly 60
years of struggle over the Israeli agency's accession.

Joining the international relief network should engender
cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian emergency services
and improve access to conflict victims, said conference
chairman Mohammed Al Hadid, who heads Jordan's Red Crescent

"Today is a big day for us," Al Hadid told reporters after
the decision, reached after two politically charged days of
talks that spilled into the early hours of Thursday morning.

"We have at last won a battle that had been fought for a
very long time," he said.

Noam Yifrach, chairman of Israel's Magen David Adom (MDA),
said the backing of the world's largest relief network would
make it easier for emergency workers to cooperate across
checkpoints, and ensure assistance reaches those who need it.

"It will help us to function together with the Palestinian
Red Crescent society ... Until today, we did not have the
movement behind us," he told Reuters in an interview in Geneva.

The Palestine Red Crescent, which won entry despite not
being linked to a sovereign state, had no immediate comment.

The Geneva Conventions' 192 signatory states and 183
national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies decided in a rare
vote to approve a new red crystal emblem for use by the Jewish
state's MDA, which had resisted using the cross and crescent
because of their links to Christianity and Islam.

The neutral, diamond-shaped symbol is also meant to provide
additional protection to war victims and humanitarian victims
in conflict situations where the red cross or crescent carried
unwelcome religious overtones.

Al Hadid urged governments worldwide to acknowledge the red
crystal with equal reverence as the agency's older logos, which
are based on the Swiss flag and the Turkish flag.


State Department Legal Adviser John Bellinger said the
United States was delighted with the outcome, which had met
resistance from some Muslim countries opposing the Israeli
group's admission.

"It has been a long and difficult process," Bellinger told
Reuters after the proceedings, which many had hoped would end
in consensus after a hard-fought diplomatic conference in
December cleared the way for the entry of the groups.

Despite legal and procedural complaints from
representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference,
and a proposed amendment from Pakistan and Tunisia seeking to
add wording on territory seen as unacceptable to Israel, the
resolution passed with more than the required two-thirds

Some 237 states and societies voted to change the agency's
statutes and add the red crystal symbol, 54 voted against, and
18 abstained, officials said. The Israeli and Palestinian
groups were then admitted to the network by acclamation.

Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, who chairs the board of the
American Red Cross, said her organization would repay about $45
million in dues withheld from the International Federation of
Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies over the MDA's exclusion.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem)