Israeli defence minister Natan Bitton apologises

Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Defence Minister

The Israeli defence minister whose pledge not to enter the Paris climate conference due to a problem with wheelchair access has apologised after his request for a travel allowance was denied.

Naftali Bennett – minister for economy, trade and industry – walked out of COP26 in Paris on Thursday following a row over wheelchair access.

He told Israel’s Army Radio that he was frustrated and that “the system does not function”.

The French foreign ministry said it was “very sorry” and that the ministry would be helping to resolve the issue.

“We understand the great disappointment of the Israeli delegation on this incident and we wish Mr Bennett, and the rest of the delegation, good luck in Paris,” said a spokesman.

At the conference in Paris, Mr Bennett was joined by the chief of the Israel’s foreign ministry, who was there to represent the Israel delegation.

He failed to get a flight to Paris from Tel Aviv airport after the hotel where he was staying – in the Villanova district of Paris – banned lifts at the entrance for access to the conference.

As a result he asked for a travel allowance but was turned down, with a French ministry spokesman telling AFP news agency that they had “hired enough buses for mobility and transport”.

Mr Bennett and the Israeli delegation had hoped to attend a breakfast meeting in Paris but left the conference venue.

“We received an automated phone call from the hotel saying that the lifts were not operational and that we could not access the conference,” Mr Bennett said.

“I was surprised and did not understand how serious the issue was until it happened. I really feel that the system does not function.”

After being told the hotel was unable to make the lifts operational – the key guests who have always had them are physically disabled – Mr Bennett then left the hotel and headed for the nearest train station.

In total Mr Bennett did not get a chance to make a speech and said that despite all that he felt vindicated, despite the disappointment and frustration.

The Israeli government is also due to receive funds for ISRAELIPAN-EV – a financial rebate for private sector initiatives – totalling 1.75bn shekels ($510m; £384m) from the European Union.

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