71 homes destroyed as Australia bushfire rages near locked-down Perth

This handout photo taken on Feb. 2, 2021 and released by West Australia's Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) shows a firefighter working to contain a fire outside Wooroloo, near Australia's fourth-biggest city Perth. (File/AFP)
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Updated 03 February 2021

71 homes destroyed as Australia bushfire rages near locked-down Perth

  • The blaze has torn through swathes of land in the Perth Hills and was moving toward more densely populated areas
  • Several emergency warnings were issued, with conditions set to worsen later Wednesday and strong gusting winds expected to fan the flames

PERTH: At least 71 homes have been destroyed in a bushfire raging out of control near Australia’s fourth-biggest city Perth, authorities said Wednesday, as they told residents to ignore a coronavirus lockdown and leave threatened areas.
The blaze has torn through swathes of land in the Perth Hills and was moving toward more densely populated areas.
Six firefighters received minor injuries — including one who officials said suffered burns and continued working to extinguish the blaze — but no deaths or serious injuries have been reported so far.
“To the people who have lost their homes, it’s just devastating for them. Our thoughts go out to them,” Western Australian fire commissioner Darren Klemm said.
Several emergency warnings were issued, with conditions set to worsen later Wednesday and strong gusting winds expected to fan the flames.
The blaze hit a population that had just been forced into a snap lockdown after a coronavirus case was detected. About two million people in and around Perth fell under the stay-at-home orders imposed on Sunday.
“This is a situation the likes of which we have never seen before,” said Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan.
“A full lockdown and raging bushfires. It is frighting and it will test us all.”
No new virus cases have been detected since the lockdown began, but the number of homes lost is still expected to rise slightly.
As the fire front edged nearer to more populated areas, Klemm called on locals to act swiftly to escape the potentially deadly blaze despite the coronavirus restrictions.
“What we don’t want is indecision from people about whether they should evacuate or not when we require them to evacuate,” he said.
“So that evacuation overrides any quarantining requirements that people may have.”
Hundreds of people have fled the area since the bushfire was sparked on Monday, with many sleeping in evacuation centers overnight.
Among them was Peter Lavis, 68, who left two nights ago after watching distant smoke quickly transform the landscape until it “looked like a bomb had gone off.”
“We could see the fire clearly, the red glow and occasional rush of flames going up,” he told AFP.
“We had a little family conference and decided the best thing to do was to leave.”
Lavis said he believed his home was safe while a neighbor had reported his eldest daughter’s nearby house was also standing despite everything around it being burned.
“It’s some of the best news but also the saddest — a lot of people haven’t been so lucky,” he said.
Bushfire smoke has blanketed Perth, about 30 kilometers west of the blaze which had a 75-kilometer (47-mile) perimeter Tuesday and has so far burned almost 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres).
“It was just scorched earth. Even where I was behind the fire, there was a lot of active burning because the crews just had to react so fast,” local mayor Kevin Bailey told public broadcaster ABC.
Temperatures were forecast to peak at 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday before a predicted ex-tropical cyclone could bring rain and cooler temperatures but more unpredictable winds later this week.
Milder conditions overnight Tuesday had allowed firefighters to build containment lines in some areas, but Klemm cautioned there were “challenging times ahead.”
More than 200 firefighters are battling the bushfire supported by water-bombing aircraft.
More than 3.5 million hectares were burned across Western Australia during the country’s devastating 2019-2020 climate change-fueled bushfires but the state was largely spared the loss of properties and lives seen in Australia’s more densely populated southeast.
Scientists said the layout of the Perth Hills left it particularly vulnerable to blazes made increasingly more dangerous by climate change, with large fires engulfing homes in the area four times since 2009.
“Urban-bushland living will increasingly mean living with bushfire threat as climate change brings with it more frequent high bushfire danger conditions days,” said Jim McLennan, a bushfire researcher at La Trobe University.

US secretary of state and Qatari prime minister discuss Gaza ceasefire, hostages and aid

Updated 09 December 2023

US secretary of state and Qatari prime minister discuss Gaza ceasefire, hostages and aid

  • The officials pledged to continue to work together to ‘facilitate the safe return of all remaining hostages while sustaining humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza’

LONDON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday held talks with Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani about the latest developments in the Gaza crisis.

“The secretary expressed appreciation for Qatar’s critical efforts to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas and the recent humanitarian pause in Gaza,” said State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

Both officials “reiterated the importance of preventing the conflict from spreading, and committed to continuing close coordination on ongoing efforts to facilitate the safe return of all remaining hostages while sustaining humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza,” he added.

Sheikh Mohammed said that Doha and its mediation partners remain committed to the continuing efforts to restore calm in Gaza, leading to a permanent ceasefire. But he added that the resumption of the Israeli bombardment of the territory following the end of the recent humanitarian pause is complicating mediation efforts and exacerbating the humanitarian catastrophe in the besieged enclave.

He also stressed the need to open up sustainable humanitarian corridors to help deliver aid to Palestinians in Gaza, and to provide the necessary protection for relief convoys.

The prime minister reiterated his country’s condemnation of all forms of violence that involve the targeting of civilians, and said that the killing innocent civilians, especially women and children, and the practice of collective punishment are not acceptable in any circumstances.

The two officials also reaffirmed the strength and importance of the US-Qatar relationship, Miller added.

The meeting took place in Washington before Blinken met a delegation from a joint Arab League-Organization of Islamic Cooperation contact group, which was on a rare mission to the US in an effort to persuade the Biden administration to drop its opposition to a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The US subsequently vetoed the resolution during a vote at the UN in New York on Friday. The Arab-Islamic Ministerial Committee includes ministers from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkiye.

Top White House cyber aide says recent Iran hack on water system is call to tighten cybersecurity

Updated 09 December 2023

Top White House cyber aide says recent Iran hack on water system is call to tighten cybersecurity

  • A recent global study by the cybersecurity firm Sophos found nearly two-thirds of health care organizations were hit by ransomware attacks in the year ending in March, double the rate from two years earlier but dipping slightly from 2022

WASHINGTON: A top White House national security official said recent cyberattacks by Iranian hackers on US water authorities — as well as a separate spate of ransomware attacks on the health care industry — should be seen as a call to action by utilities and industry to tighten cybersecurity.
Deputy national security adviser Anne Neuberger said in an interview on Friday that recent attacks on multiple American organizations by the Iranian hacker group “Cyber Av3ngers” were “unsophisticated” and had “minimal impact” on operations. But the attacks, Neuberger said, offered a fresh warning that American companies and operators of critical infrastructure “are facing persistent and capable cyberattacks from hostile countries and criminals” that are not going away.
“Some pretty basic practices would have made a big difference there,” said Neuberger, who serves as a top adviser to President Joe Biden on cyber and emerging technology issues. “We need to be locking our digital doors. There are significant criminal threats, as well as capable countries — but particularly criminal threats — that are costing our economy a lot.”
The hackers, who US and Israeli officials said are tied to Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, breached multiple organizations in several states including a small municipal water authority in the western Pennsylvania town of Aliquippa. The hackers said they were specifically targeting organizations that used programmable logic controllers made by the Israeli company Unitronics, commonly used by water and water treatment utilities.
Matthew Mottes, the chairman of the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa, which discovered it had been hacked on Nov. 25, said that federal officials had told him the same group also breached four other utilities and an aquarium.
The Aliquippa hack prompted workers to temporarily halt pumping in a remote station that regulates water pressure for two nearby towns, leading crews to switch to manual operation.
The hacks, which authorities said began on Nov. 22, come as already fraught tensions between the US and Iran have been heightened by the two-month-old Israel-Hamas war. The White House said that Tehran has supported Houthi rebels in Yemen who have carried out attacks on commercial vessels and have threatened US warships in the Red Sea.
Iran is the chief sponsor of both Hamas, the militant group which controls Gaza, as well as the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The US has said they have uncovered no information that Iran was directly involved in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel that triggered the massive retaliatory operation by Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza. But the Biden administration is increasingly voicing concern about Iran attempting to broaden the Israeli-Hamas conflict through proxy groups and publicly warned Tehran about the Houthi rebels’ attacks.
“They’re the ones with their finger on the trigger,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters earlier this week. “But that gun — the weapons here are being supplied by Iran. And Iran, we believe, is the ultimate party responsible for this.”
Neuberger declined to comment on whether the recent cyberattack by the Iranian hacker group could portend more hacks by Tehran on US infrastructure and companies. Still, she said the moment underscored the need to step up cybersecurity efforts.
The Iranian “Cyber Av3ngers” attack came after a federal appeals court decision in October prompted the EPA to rescind a rule that would have obliged USpublic water systems to include cybersecurity testing in their regular federally mandated audits. The rollback was triggered by a federal appeals court decision in a case brought by Missouri, Arkansas and Iowa, and joined by a water utility trade group.
Neuberger said that measures spelled out in the scrapped rule to beef up cybersecurity for water systems could have “identified vulnerabilities that were targeted in recent weeks.”
The administration, earlier this year, unveiled a wide-ranging cybersecurity plan that called for bolstering protections on critical sectors and making software companies legally liable when their products don’t meet basic standards.
Neuberger also noted recent criminal ransomware attacks that have devastated health care systems, arguing those attacks spotlight the need for government and industry to take steps to tighten cybersecurity.
A recent attack targeting Ardent Health Services prompted the health care chain that operates 30 hospitals in six states to divert patients from some of its emergency rooms to other hospitals while postponing certain elective procedures. Ardent said it was forced to take its network offline after the Nov. 23 cyberattack.
A recent global study by the cybersecurity firm Sophos found nearly two-thirds of health care organizations were hit by ransomware attacks in the year ending in March, double the rate from two years earlier but dipping slightly from 2022.
“The president’s made it a priority. We’re pushing out actionable information. We’re pushing out advice,” Neuberger said. “And we really need the partnership of state and local governments and of companies who are operating critical services to take and implement that advice quickly.”


’Mud to our knees’: teen migrant misery in France’s Calais

Updated 09 December 2023

’Mud to our knees’: teen migrant misery in France’s Calais

  • NGOs estimate around 1,000 people are currently living rough in and around Calais, the French port which has for years acted as a beacon for migrants hoping to stow away on trucks crossing the Channel by ferry or through an undersea railway tunnel

CALAIS, France: On the northern French coast, dozens of migrant teenagers are living in miserable conditions in the forest while waiting to try to cross the Channel in one of the small boats at the center of a heated immigration row in Britain.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is under mounting pressure from his ruling Conservatives to take a tougher stance on the flow of migrants across the Channel ahead of a general election that will be held by January 2025.
Sunak has promised to “stop the boats” but 29,000 people have crossed one of the world’s busiest shipping routes this year in the hope of starting a new life in Britain.
Although the numbers are down on a record 44,000 in 2022, there is little sign that the crossings will stop.
NGOs estimate around 1,000 people are currently living rough in and around Calais, the French port which has for years acted as a beacon for migrants hoping to stow away on trucks crossing the Channel by ferry or through an undersea railway tunnel.
Around 130 are unaccompanied minors, who fled war, conflict or grinding poverty in the hope of making a new beginning in Britain.
Khaled, a 17-year-old migrant from war-torn Sudan who arrived in Calais in early December on the last leg of an odyssey that took him through Libya, Tunisia and Italy, lives alone in a wood, behind a railway track.
His tent is sinking into the mud and his clothes, which are hung on branches, show no sign of drying in the wintry cold.
Every night he tries to climb on the back of a truck bound for Britain — but he’s had no luck so far.
Tighter surveillance in recent years of the rail and ferry terminals, which are fenced off with barbed wire and concrete walls, have pushed growing numbers of migrants to try their luck crossing the Channel.
Since 2018, over 100,000 people have set sail for Britain in crowded inflatable boats or small fishing vessels.
For some, the crossing has proved fatal with the deadliest disaster in November 2021 when 27 migrants drowned.
Khaled said he could not afford the “at least 800-1,000 euros” ($860-$1,080) people smugglers are demanding to take him to Britain by boat.
But Niamatullah, a 17-year-old Afghan who AFP met at a migrant support center in Calais run by the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity, is just waiting for the cold snap to pass before he tries his luck.
“Life is hard here, we’re in mud up to our knees and the police keep taking all our belongings,” he complained.

Complaints of police repression have been legion in Calais since 2016 when the authorities bulldozed a sprawling migrant tented camp dubbed the “Jungle” that housed more than 9,000 people at its peak.
Successive French governments have ordered the police to routinely dismantle any new settlements, leaving migrants regularly wandering the streets in search of a place to sleep, including teens.
The only dedicated hostel for unaccompanied minors in the wider Calais region has a maximum capacity of 30.
MSF psychologist Chloe Hannebrouw said the minors were suffering from “huge psychological stress” as well as a deep sense of disillusionment.
“There is a gulf between what they expected in Europe and the conditions they find themselves in, in Calais,” she said.
With no family members to look out for them, NGOs attempt to fill the gap.
In the seaside village of Loon-Plage near Calais, Jeanne Hogard, a social worker for the Red Cross, warns a 16-year-old Sudanese girl of the danger of taking to the sea.
“Do you know the emergency number to call? Do you have a GPS,” she asks rhetorically.
Such warnings fail to make much impact among migrants, many of whom feel their prospects are better in Britain, because they have contacts there and speak the language.
“I’m not afraid. We got this far, we’ll keep going,” Nasser, a Sudanese youth, told AFP.


US vetoes resolution calling for ceasefire in Gaza and backed by majority of Security Council

Updated 09 December 2023

US vetoes resolution calling for ceasefire in Gaza and backed by majority of Security Council

  • Washington’s decision to block the resolution comes amid unprecedented international calls to end the violence and ease the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza
  • The US uses its veto power despite last-gasp talks between Arab ministers and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and a heartfelt plea from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

NEW YORK CITY: The US on Friday blocked international calls for the UN Security Council to take action on the situation in Gaza by demanding a ceasefire. It vetoed a resolution for which 13 of the other 14 council members voted in favor, while the UK abstained.
Washington’s veto came amid unprecedented international calls to end the violence in Gaza, including a dramatic appeal by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who this week urged the council to demand a humanitarian ceasefire. Invoking the rarely used Article 99, one of the few powers granted to a secretary-general under the UN charter, he said a ceasefire is needed to help avert a humanitarian catastrophe that could have “potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole, and for peace and security in the region.”
Article 99 gives the secretary-general the power to bring to the attention of the Security Council “any matter which, in his opinion, may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”
Friday’s vote on the draft resolution, submitted by the UAE on behalf of the Arab Group of nations at the UN, also came as Arab ministers, led by Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, met Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington in what appeared to be a last-ditch effort to convince Washington not to use its veto — a power it has as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council alongside the UK, Russia, France and China — to block adoption of the resolution.
The US veto came as no surprise, as the alternate permanent representative of the US to the UN, Robert Wood, told an earlier meeting of the council on Friday morning that his country did not support the calls for an immediate ceasefire, on the grounds that “this would only plant the seeds for the next war, because Hamas has no desire to see a durable peace, to see a two-state solution.”
It was the refusal of Hamas to release the young women it continues to hold hostage that resulted in the breakdown of the previous truce, he added, as he repeated the US position that “this council’s failure to condemn Hamas for its Oct. 7. terrorist attacks, including its acts of sexual violence and other unthinkable evils, is a serious moral failure.”
The resolution blocked on Friday called for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza and “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access.”
It expressed “grave concern over the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population” and emphasized that “the Palestinian and Israeli civilian populations must be protected in accordance with international humanitarian law.”
Also on Friday morning, Guterres repeated his call for council members “to spare no effort to push for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, for the protection of civilians, and for the urgent delivery of lifesaving aid.” He added that the “eyes of the world — and the eyes of history — are watching. Time to act.”
The UN chief has warned there is a high risk of a total collapse of the humanitarian support system in Gaza, which could potentially result in “a complete breakdown of public order and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt.” He spoke of his fears that this could have devastating repercussions for the security of the entire region.
Guterres described apocalyptic scenes in Gaza. He said attacks by air, land and sea are so intense and widespread that “they have reportedly hit 339 education facilities, 26 hospitals, 56 healthcare facilities, 88 mosques and three churches.
“Over 60 percent of Gaza’s housing has reportedly been destroyed or damaged — some 300,000 houses and apartments. Some 85 percent of the population have been forced from their homes.”
Under such circumstances, the delivery of humanitarian aid “has become impossible,” he added, and the “people of Gaza are being told to move like human pinballs, ricocheting between ever- smaller slivers of the south without any of the basics for survival.”
Nowhere in Gaza is safe now, Guterres said.
“At least 88 UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) shelters have been hit, killing over 270 people and injuring over 900. Conditions in shelters are overcrowded and unsanitary. People nurse open wounds. Hundreds of people stand in line for hours to use one shower or toilet.”
He also warned of the “serious risk” of starvation and famine. According to the World Food Programme, 97 percent of households in Gaza do not have enough to eat and the agency’s own food supplies are running out.
Guterres also highlighted the collapse of the healthcare system in Gaza at a time when needs continue to rise, and the deaths of at least 286 health workers since the war began.
“Hospitals have suffered heavy bombardment,” he said. “Just 14 out of 36 are still functioning. Of these, three are providing basic first aid, while the others are delivering partial services.
“The unsanitary conditions in shelters and severe shortages of food and water are leading to increases in respiratory infections, scabies, jaundice and diarrhea.
“Everything I have just described represents an unprecedented situation that led to my unprecedented decision to invoke Article 99, urging the members of the Security Council to press to avert a humanitarian catastrophe, and appealing for a humanitarian ceasefire to be declared.”
Ahead of the vote, Riyad Mansour, the permanent observer of Palestine to the UN, asked council members: “Are we supposed to pretend we don’t know (Israel’s) objective is the ethnic cleansing of the Gaza Strip?
“If you are against the destruction and displacement of the Palestinian people, you have to be in favor of an immediate ceasefire.
“Regardless of how good your intentions are, how genuine your efforts are, this is the moment of truth. This war is part of the assault to end the Palestinian people as a nation and to destroy the question of Palestine. If you do not share this objective, you must stand against the war.”
Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, Gilad Erdan, told council members: “Calling for a ceasefire sends a clear message that Hamas is forgiven for their deliberate atrocities.
“Hamas exploits Gazans as human shields in hopes that civilian casualties will rise and the UN will call for a ceasefire. Do we want to be the actors in this show that Hamas has carefully crafted?”
Blaming Hamas for the humanitarian situation in Gaza, Erdan said: “If this council wants to see a ceasefire, start by demanding it from Hamas, the party that broke the past two.”
The UAE’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, Mohammed Abushahab, told the council that the scale of the destruction in Gaza surpasses even the bombing of Dresden in 1945, during the Second World War.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the deliberate targeting of medical facilities, equipment and personnel,” he said.
China’s permanent representative to UN, Zhang Jun, whose country co-sponsored the Emirati resolution, said that it “reflects the universal core of the international community and represents the right direction for the restoration of peace.”
He added: “This human catastrophe is too great for words to describe … any waiting or delay means more death. At this juncture, only a ceasefire can avoid the headache of regional conflagration.”


Muslim candidate for US Congress says Americans want to see humanity in responses to Gaza war

Updated 09 December 2023

Muslim candidate for US Congress says Americans want to see humanity in responses to Gaza war

  • Mahnoor Ahmad accuses her opponent in the Democratic primary election, incumbent Sean Casten, of being ‘unresponsive’ to Arab and Muslim concerns
  • She says she wants to ensure all residents of her district in Illinois — Christians, Muslims and Jews — are equally represented and their concerns addressed

CHICAGO: Mahnoor Ahmad, a Muslim candidate for US Congress, said the need for “more humanity” in the response to Israel’s war on Gaza is a key issue in her campaign.

She told Arab News she is hearing more and more Americans say they want a ceasefire in Gaza, that this has nothing to do with their politics, and that innocent people are being victimized “by the worst of humanity.”

She is not afraid to say what needs to be said to help achieve peace and end the violence, she added, and accused her opponent in the Democratic Party primary election for Illinois’ 6th Congressional District, due to take place on March 19 next year, of being unwilling to do the same.

“We can’t just turn away,” Ahmad said. “It has become internationally embarrassing to do that. Every part of the world is rising up and turning against what Israel’s government is doing. We cannot go on like this. It is unsustainable to be with the status quo right now. Nothing good can come out of this.

“That is something we need to address as human beings. This is a human rights issue. This is nothing about Jewish or Muslim, or Palestine or Israel. This is nothing to do with that any more. It has gone far beyond that. This is an issue that needs to be addressed peacefully.

“And as America, a country of democracy, we should be the ones who initiate that. We should be the ones saying that we are the ones that represent peace. We are a true democratic state and we will not take part in the continuing bombardment of children or women.”

Describing the images of the violence against Palestinians and Israelis since the conflict began on Oct. 7 as “horrific” she said: “Is that the plan, to keep on bombarding these children, these women? More than half, two-thirds of these are children.”

Ahmad rejected any suggestion that she is anti-Israeli, pro-Hamas or opposes peace. The 6th Congressional District, which she hopes to serve in the House of Representatives, has one of the largest concentrations of Arabs and Muslims in the country, she said, and they deserve proper representation.

Ahmad’s family moved to the US when she was 7 years old, and she graduated with a masters degree in health from Purdue University. Her father is Pakistani and her late mother was an Arab.

Her opponent in the Democratic primary, incumbent Sean Casten, supported House Resolution 888, which affirms “Israel’s right to exist” and conflates criticism of the Israeli state with a form of antisemitism. The resolution excluded any reference to Palestinian, Arab or Muslim rights. He did support calls for a “pause” in Israel’s military campaign targeting Hamas in Gaza, which has so far claimed the lives of more than 16,000 people, including about 6,000 women and children, according to Palestinian authorities.

Ahmad said that by ignoring the suffering of “all of the civilians,” Israeli and Palestinian, Casten is out of touch with his district’s residents and with “humanity.”

She also accused him of being “unresponsive” to the concerns of his constituent on other issues closer to home, including high healthcare costs.

Ahmad said her goal is to ensure that “every person of every race, religion and ethnicity” can come to her office and is free to speak out about the need for more humanity when dealing with a range of issues.

“I am 100 percent generated by the people, especially by the people of the district, by refusing to take money from corporations and being completely dedicated to the people, who I have to listen to,” she said. “(The corporations are) not who you should have to listen to.

“When we are elected, we represent the people and when you represent the people it has to be through and through: everyone, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or national origin. I will speak to and listen to everyone in the district.

"I grew up in this area. This is home for me. This is my district, these are my people. They are not just voters to me, these are actual people that I have connected deeply with.”

Ahmad said that while the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the killing of civilians there is currently a major concern, as a prospective member of Congress she is also very concerned about local and international issues including crime, healthcare, the economy, and the environment and climate change.

Healthcare in particular is a major issue that has yet to be fully addressed in the 6th District or nationwide, she added, and it must be more affordable for all residents, especially senior citizens, because currently the costs medicine and treatment are often out of the reach of many Americans.

“People can’t afford that,” she said. “Elderly people can’t afford dental care, which can cost thousands per month. There are elderly people who experience pain and can’t go to pain management and rely on pain-management medication … these are severe issues in our district and we need to be more aggressive in addressing and changing them.”

There is a “health crisis” in America, Ahmad said, adding: “Congress should be approving legislation, not blocking laws that could expand healthcare to citizens who are facing a healthcare crisis … we need to elect people whose hands are not tied to (health industry) corporations or anything like that, and are voting no against all the right legislation, so that we can do something about this health crisis.”

Casten has helped to block legislation that could expand access to affordable healthcare, she added.

Ahmad also supports changes to the law designed to prevent the “double taxation” of social security payments to the elderly, which she said Casten has not backed.

She said older people are “frustrated” by the failure of Congress to fully address their concerns and added: “We have to treasure our senior citizens. They are our parents. We have to keep them safe. They are a vulnerable community.”