UK apologizes after Israeli minister denied wheelchair access to COP26

GLASGOW — The British government has apologized to an Israeli minister who was unable to access the COP26 summit because of her wheelchair.

Karine Elharrar, Israel’s minister for energy and water, was forced to wait two hours outside the event site Monday after organizers refused to let her enter in her adapted vehicle, she said.

Her office said she was later offered shuttle transport to the summit area, but the bus was not wheelchair-accessible and she had to return to her hotel in Edinburgh.

She tweeted it was “sad” the U.N. “does not provide accessibility to its events.”

U.K. Environment Secretary George Eustice said the government had apologized to Elharrar, who has muscular dystrophy. He called the incident “deeply regrettable.”

Eustice also appeared to blame the Israeli delegation, however, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today program: “What would normally happen in this situation is that Israel would have communicated that they had that particular need for their minister.”

The fiasco caused a huge stir in Israel, overshadowing the substance of early talks at the U.N. summit.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said: “You can’t worry about the future and climate if you don’t worry first about humans and accessibility.”

The COP26 accessibility helpline was unresponsive for several hours Monday morning and operators appeared unaware of the existence of an accessible entrance. Other disabled delegates reported smooth access to the site.

The U.K.-hosted conference has been beset by organizational difficulties, with trains to Glasgow canceled on Sunday and long queues to enter the venue.

Police Scotland issued an apology Monday after diverting women along a dark park in the city because of last-minute road closures for a dignitaries’ dinner.

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