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'Red Crystal' will become emblem to protect medics

A crystal symbol (right) joins the cross and the crescent tomorrow as part of an effort to include Israel in the Red Cross movement.

GENEVA -- The "Red Crystal" debuts tomorrow as an emblem that can be used to protect its relief workers, part of an agreement for Israel's admission to the Red Cross movement after more than half a century of exclusion.

During decades of stalemate, stemming from the Jewish state's reluctance to display a cross or crescent, some countries had feared that adding a red Star of David to the list of protective emblems would open the door to proliferation of other such symbols and undermine the recognition that any emblem had to protect humanitarian workers.

But it was unlikely that the red crystal, a red square frame standing on one corner, would be widely displayed in the near future.

A spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross conceded yesterday that it will take time before the crystal will be widely enough known that medics on the battlefield will be able to work under it without fear of being targeted.

"It's legally now a protective emblem, but there's a lot of work to be done for it to be in reality and concretely a protective emblem because it needs to be known in the field and respected," said the spokeswoman, Antonella Notari.

Israel's rescue society, Magen David Adom, sought membership in 1949 but objected to using either the cross or crescent that medics have displayed for more than a century. The Red Cross refused to admit the group's symbol, a red Star of David.

The red crystal was approved over Muslim objections in December 2005. The treaty authorizing the new symbol is entering into force six months after Switzerland and Norway became the first two countries to ratify it.

"We are pleased they created especially for us a new symbol that will be accepted the world over," said Dr. Noam Yifrach, chairman of the executive committee of Magen David Adom. The Israeli organization puts the red Star of David inside the crystal's frame.

Any national society in the international Red Cross movement can use the crystal if it wants. Military medics also can display it instead of the cross or crescent.

In combat, the crystal is supposed to stand alone, but for fund-raising and identification purposes at home a society could put its own emblem inside the frame.

The red cross on a white background was adopted as the emblem of the movement when it was founded in 1863 by Swiss humanitarians. But the symbol reminded Muslims of the Christian crusaders, and they began using a red crescent in the 19th century.