GLASGOW – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized on Tuesday to Israel's energy minister, who had to miss the first day of the United Nations' climate change summit because the transportation offered to her was not wheelchair-accessible.
"I gather there was some confusion with the arrangements yesterday," Johnson told Minister Karine Elharrar, a member of the Israeli delegation to the conference, in a meeting alongside Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. "I'm very, very sorry about that," the British leader added.
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On Monday, Elharrar had to return to her hotel in Edinburgh instead of attending the talks. A belatedly-arranged wheelchair accessible taxi transported Elharrar, who has muscular dystrophy, to the venue on Tuesday. Bennett escorted her inside.
Elharrar said on Monday she was sad that she could not reach the conference grounds because the only options to get there from the gathering area were to walk or board a shuttle that was not suited to her wheelchair.
Bennett also commented on the incident, thanking Johnson for his "quick intervention on this unfortunate incident," said the Prime Minister. "I think it's a learning opportunity for all of us on the importance of accessibility for all. We're so proud of Minister Elharrar. She's just amazing."
Earlier, British Environment Secretary George Eustice suggested in a BBC interview that Israel may not have made the hosts aware of Elharrar's particular needs in advance.
But the spokesman for Israel's embassy in Britain said the mission had "communicated all of the necessary details to everyone concerned, as required, over the past several weeks."
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The conference organizers tweeted on Tuesday: "This was a genuine mistake and we have apologized for that. We are pleased to see her (Elharrar) in attendance at COP26 today."
'We mean business'
During their meeting, Bennett thanked Johnson for "this remarkable event," saying that the UN conference has "given everyone an opportunity to re-evaluate their national policies vis-à-vis climate change."
"I can tell you that regarding Israel, it's been instrumental, because we have now changed our policy on this and for the first time in our history, committed to zero emissions by 2050, and we mean business. It's been a watershed for us."
The two leaders reaffirmed the importance of ties between the two countries with the Israeli prime minister telling his British counterpart that "you're a huge friend to Israel; that's no secret. What we'll be discussing is how we bring our relationship to the next level."
Prime Minister Johnson commended Israel's booster campaign, saying that the U.K. must learn from it, saying "Our booster operation is running now, but we need it to go with Israeli speed. I want some of that spirit in the U.K. as well."
Earlier on Tuesday, Bennett met Bahrain's prime minister, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, in what marks the first-ever meeting between Israeli and Bahraini prime ministers.
Also in Glasgow, Bennett met his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and praised his role in deepening ties between the two nations. On Monday, Bennett also met with French President Emmanuel Macron and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.