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Israel, Palestinians to Join Red Cross, Red Crescent

An international Red Cross conference is set to approve the membership of Israel's aid organization, Magen David Adom and the Palestine Red Crescent. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement will amend its statutes to add another emblem, named the "Red Crystal," paving the way for their participation.

If all goes according to plan, the Palestine Red Crescent Society will be admitted as a member of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement at the same time as Israel's Magen David Adom.

The Movement's Special Adviser on the Emblem, Christopher Lamb, says both societies want to see this happen. He says their work will reach a new level of acceptability once they join.

"What we will then have is in one of the most difficult humanitarian scenarios in the world, both the societies committed to the same set of fundamental principles and humanitarian requirements, working together to bring to the people of that very distressed region, and it gets more distressed every day… to bring to them some comfort. So we see a direct humanitarian benefit for the people of the region as well from this resolution going forward," he said.

This controversial issue has been simmering for more than six decades. Israel first tried to join the International Red Cross Movement in 1949, but Middle Eastern politics have kept Israel out. Another problem leading to Israel's isolation, is its refusal to use either of the two globally recognized symbols, the red cross and the red crescent.

Lamb says this problem will be solved if the resolution to adopt a third humanitarian emblem, the Red Crystal, is approved at this conference.

"We can use it as an emblem to be carried by any national society that wishes to be admitted to the movement as a member and that primarily is the Israeli society," he added.

Israel's Magen David Adom will be able to place a red Star of David in the center of the new diamond shaped symbol.

The American Red Cross froze its contributions to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies six years ago to protest Israel's exclusion from the movement. Spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, Devorah Goldburg, says $45 million has been withheld over that period.

She will not now say whether those funds will be restored once the issue has been resolved. But she says the admission of the Israeli and Palestinian societies will make the international movement truly universal.

"The American Red Cross believes that the admission of both the MDA [Magen David Adom] and the Palestine Red Crescent Society will absolutely help further their cooperation, their humanitarian work-serving the people in whose community they currently serve. So absolutely, we think it will be very beneficial and that the cooperation will continue," she said.

Delegates here do not expect a smooth ride. Syria is leading a group of Muslim states that plan to confront the Red Cross movement over attempts to introduce a third humanitarian emblem.

The Red Cross says it hopes the resolution will be passed by consensus, but it is prepared for a vote if necessary. A two-thirds majority would be required for the resolution to be adopted.