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Red Cross admits Israeli society; optional emblem adopted

GENEVA -- The Red Cross admitted Israel to the worldwide humanitarian organization today, ending decades of exclusion linked to the Jewish state's refusal to accept the traditional cross symbol.

The approval was given after a two-day International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

The Red Cross federation admitted Israel's Magen David Adom society simultaneously with the Palestine Red Crescent. An optional new emblem was adopted so Israel could retain its red star of David instead of having to adopt the red cross or crescent used by the 184 other societies.

``This has been going on for 58 long years. It's time, " said Bonnie McElveen Hunter, chairman of the American Red Cross, which had been campaigning for years for the Israeli society's admission.

Ambassador Itzhak Levanon of Israel said the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent had rejected a Muslim amendment that would have challenged Israel's occupation of Arab territory since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The vote was 72 votes for the amendment and 191 against, he said.

Then the conference passed by a 237-to-54 vote a resolution setting up the legal basis for Israel's admission and making an exception to the rule that societies have to be under a sovereign state so the Palestinians could join as well.

Magen David Adom has sought membership in the Red Cross movement since the 1930s but has been barred from entry because it objects to using the traditional symbols to identify its medical and humanitarian workers.

The decision completed a complicated process that included the creation of the optional, third emblem -- a blank, red-bordered square standing on one corner -- that could stand alone or frame the Israeli society's red star.

The emblem -- dubbed the ``red crystal" -- was approved over Muslim objections in a hard-fought diplomatic conference in December. But that was only the first step, and the conference was called to complete the job.

Conference organizers said their aim was to make the movement universal.

The simple red cross on a white background was adopted as the emblem of the movement when it was founded in 1863 by Swiss humanitarians trying to care for battlefield casualties who otherwise were left to suffer.

But the symbol unintentionally reminded Muslims of the Christian Crusaders, and they insisted on their own red crescent in the 19th century.

When Israel's society bid for membership was turned down in 1949, it objected to using either the cross or the crescent, and the Red Cross movement refused to admit yet another emblem.

Israel's military will be able to use the new emblem, the crystal, by itself on a white flag to protect medics and humanitarian staff.

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