The quest for a neutral symbol transcending religious, political and national differences was close to resolution on Monday as 192 countries met to adopt a new emblem as an alternative to the Red Cross and Red Crescent.
A decision on a hollowed-out, red crystal on a white background would pave the way for Israel -- which refuses to display either cross or crescent -- to join the international movement.
Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey on Monday urged the Geneva conference to accept the red crystal, or diamond shape, on the grounds that it would enable all countries to join the humanitarian movement.
"Adoption of an additional emblem -- devoid of any national, political or religious connotation -- would make it possible for us to have a new instrument that we can use to protect military and civilian medical services on the battlefield," said Calmy-Rey, the conference chairwoman.
She also suggested that the crystal symbol could be used where the cross or crescent is not sufficiently recognized and respected.
"Whether we like it or not, the current emblems have given rise to interpretations that have too often in recent years led to violations of the emblems and to deaths of members of medical services and humanitarian workers," she said.
The Iranians were granted permission in 1929 to display a Red Lion and Sun symbol on their first aid vehicles. After the 1979 revolution, however, the Iranian organization reverted to the Red Crescent.
The Red Cross was first adopted in 1863, when Swiss humanitarians founded the movement to care for casualties of war; it reversed the colors of the Swiss flag. But Muslim countries, reminded of the crusader's cross, refused to use it. The Ottoman empire first used the Red Crescent to protect medical workers in the 1876 Russo-Turkish war.
The meeting hopes to reach agreement by consensus. If a split develops, a two-thirds majority would be needed.