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Israel's energy minister couldn't enter COP26 because of wheelchair inaccessibility

Karine Elharrar, Orna Barbivai and Meir Cohen from the Yesh Atid party arrive for consultations on the formation of a coalition government in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021.
Karine Elharrar, Orna Barbivai and Meir Cohen from the Yesh Atid party arrive for consultations on the formation of a coalition government in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021.

Updated November 2, 2021 at 6:04 PM ET

Israel's energy minister Karine Elharrar says she was unable to participate in the first full day of the U.N.'s climate summit (known as COP26) in Glasgow because the conference was not accessible by wheelchair.

Elharrar has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair.

In an interview with Israel's TV broadcaster Channel 12, Elharrar says she was taken to several entrances at the conference but was unable to get inside given their lack of accessibility, according to Reuters.

She told the local broadcaster that the only options of getting to the conference grounds were either by walking or boarding a shuttle that is not designed for wheelchairs.

After learning about the incident, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett contacted Elharrar, saying it was "unacceptable" that she was left out of Day 1 of the climate summit and that for Day 2, her vehicle will arrive as part of his official motorcade, thus ensuring her entry, according to The Times of Israel.

"I came to COP26 to meet my world counterparts and to advance a common battle against climate change," Elharrar wrote on Twitter. "It is sad that the UN that advances accessibility to people with disabilities, in the year 2021, does not ensure accessibility to its events."

Elharrar wrote she hopes necessary lessons from the incident are learned so that she can focus on advancing green energy, removing obstacles and promoting energy efficiency Tuesday at the conference.

Israel's Foreign Minister Yari Lapid called out organizers of the conference on Twitter, saying: "It is impossible to safeguard our future and address the climate crisis, without first and foremost caring for people, including ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities."

The U.K. Ambassador to Israel Neil Wigan apologized on Twitter for the incident, saying he was "disturbed to hear that [Elharrar] was unable to attend meetings at COP26."

"We want a COP Summit that is welcoming and inclusive to everyone," Wigan continued in his tweet.

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