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Red Cross hopes to resolve emblem dispute with Israel
GENEVA (Reuters) -- A senior Swiss official said Wednesday he was hopeful a long-running dispute over national emblems that is blocking Israel's admission to the international Red Cross movement could be solved by the end of the year.
But the official, Nicolas Michel, and representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said much hard work had to be done.
"We have good hope that further contacts in the coming weeks will enable us to reach our aim," Michel told a news conference at the end of a two-day meeting of officials from over 100 countries discussing the emblem problem.
The meeting was called by Switzerland, which is depository of the Geneva Conventions on how warfare can be conducted, after the failure of earlier efforts to get agreement on allowing Israel to use a red diamond as its symbol.
Israel's humanitarian relief movement, Magen Davis Adom, uses a red Star of David and has therefore been barred from the Red Cross movement, which currently recognizes only the cross and crescent symbols.
Diplomats say Arab countries still suspicious of Israel have been reluctant to agree to changes.
The red diamond proposed by some movement officials was dropped on the grounds that it was close to a distress sign used by ships at sea and by trucks carrying flammable materials.
U.S. holding back dues
The American Red Cross society, which argues that Israel should be admitted using its current symbol, is holding back payment of its $5 million annual dues to the federation until the issue is settled.
The Geneva-based federation unites national societies and works mainly in the area of relief after disasters or conflict. The ICRC, also headquartered in Geneva, was originally Swiss-run and focuses on helping victims of war, war prisoners and political detainees around the world.
This week's meeting was called to consider a new proposal -- upright and inverted red chevrons inside which any national society could insert its own symbol -- that would allow Israel to use the red Star of David.
Michel, head of the Swiss Foreign Ministry's international legal department, told the news conference that there had been a constructive spirit at the meeting and that no state present had closed the door to that solution.
But, answering questions, he said some Arab countries made clear that they would need some time to consider it.
"We are sure this process will succeed, but we have a tremendous amount of work to do in the days and weeks ahead," he added.
The Swiss government hopes to reach a consensus on the issue among the movement's 176 members in time for it to call a diplomatic conference at the end of October of all 188 countries that have signed the Geneva Conventions.
That gathering would then approve the new symbol, effectively allowing Israel to come in as a full voting member after five decades as an observer.
But diplomats following the negotiations said they saw little sign of an early breakthrough. "The real issue is simply that some countries simply don't want Israel in the movement yet," one European envoy said.
Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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