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Thursday, 13 April, 2000, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
Row over Red Cross emblem
Red Cross flaf
The ICRC considers accepting a third emblem
By diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason

Representatives of 16 countries and the international Red Cross movement are meeting in Geneva to try to resolve a 50-year-old argument about the recognition of the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross

The Israeli body, the Magen David Adom has only observer status in the movement because its emblem - incorporating a red Star of David - is not accepted under the Geneva Conventions.
Red Cross workers in Rwanda
The cross is used in predominantly Christian countries
But now the Red Cross has put forward a proposal that would enable not only Israel, but also Kazakhstan and Eritrea, to become full members.

The American Red Cross put this long-running issue back at the top of the agenda by witholding contributions to the international Red Cross movement to press for Israel's admission.

Identity

The International Committee of the Red Cross has voiced fears about a proliferation of emblems diluting its identity: at present national societies must use either the cross or the red crescent.


Red Cross lorry
A dangerous emblem in Chechnya

Neither is acceptable to Israel, which insists on the red shield of David used by the Magen David Adom for the last 70 years.

The proposed solution - backed by both the ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies - was put forward by ICRC representative Francois Bugnion at the Geneva meeting.

Mr Bugnion said the red cross and red crescent would be retained for all national societies that were happy with them.

But in addition, a third more neutral symbol would be introduced, free of any religious connotation - a red diamond has been suggested.

Those who wished to use that could incoporate within it any of the signs already in use, including the Israeli shield.

No easy solution

Implementing all of this will not be easy. An international conference would be required to amend the Geneva Conventions and the statutes of the international Red Cross movement.


Asmara tower
A compromise could allow Eritrea to join

Until recently political hostility to Israel from Arab states and others has played a part in its exclusion.

But the proposal would also make possible the admission of Kazakhstan and Eritrea, which use the double sign of the red cross and red crescent.

And the introduction of an alternative neutral emblem would be useful to the ICRC in areas controlled by Islamic militants where its traditional red cross has become a liability, even a target for attack.

That has been the case in rebel-held parts of Chechnya - though it is not a problem with the Taleban in Afghanistan.

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02 Apr 00 | Americas
Red Cross dispute under spotlight
13 Apr 00 | Middle East
Red Cross proposes Red Shield
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