Two-thirds of 192 Geneva Convention member states voted to add the symbol, which is a diamond-shaped red crystal on a white background, after last-ditch negotiations between Israel and Syria over demands for humanitarian access to Syrian citizens in the Golan Heights broke down.
Most of the no votes came from Muslim countries trying to block Israel’s path into the aid movement.
The Red Star of David of the Israeli relief agency Magen David Adom (MDA) can be placed inside the so-called red crystal symbol, allowing the group to become part of the international emergency service network.
The MDA is unrecognised in the 1949 Geneva Conventions because its emblem does not conform with longstanding rules allowing only a cross or a crescent.
While it is Israel’s partner organisation to the Red Cross, the MDA has refused to operate under the cross or crescent, and the new emblem is one that Israeli paramedics could use during combat in place of the existing symbols.
The new crystal symbol is seen as free from religious, national or cultural connotations.
Abdul Rahman Attar, head of the Syrian Red Crescent, said his country still wants an agreement on humanitarian aid in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights as a condition for approving the new emblem.
Damascus wants Israel to allow Syrian humanitarian workers to access around 25,000 Syrian citizens living there, claiming Israel is neglecting their health needs.
Switzerland tried in vain for three days to mediate between the Israelis and Syrians to reach a consensus before deciding to call a vote late on Wednesday night.
Other countries might also adopt the red crystal, with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies possibly to use it in delicate situations like Iraq.
MDA chairman Noam Yifrach said the agreement “will protect human life… what is most important is the result, tomorrow everybody will have forgotten the conditions of the vote.”
The creation of the new emblem, and Israel’s entry into the movement, will not become official until next year at a new international conference that will amend the movement’s statutes.
The accord ends several decades of controversy and debates since a conference in 1949 rejected the MDA’s emblem, blocking its entry into the movement.