Famed Syrian cartoonist has his hands broken

Ali Ferzat, famous dissident cartoonist, is beaten by security forces.

Ali Ferzat, a prominent Syrian cartoonist, has been beaten by security forces, according to activists.

The dissident artist is one of the most famous cultural figures in the Arab world, with his drawings criticising the corruption of the Syrian regime, and others across the Middle East. Pushing the boundaries of freedom of expression in Syria, he even received a death threat from the former Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. More recently, he has turned his attention to the uprising.

In the early hours of Thursday, a group of masked men forced him into a van. According to relatives, Ferzat's attackers broke both his hands, telling him that it was a "warning", before leaving him by the roadside.

According to a tweet, this was the last cartoon he drew before being attacked:


Here is a montage of some of Ferzat's other cartoons:

This is just the latest in a series of episodes of President Bashar al-Assad's regime attempting to quash dissent. Several artists, writers and actors have been arrested in recent weeks. Last month, Ibrahim al-Qashoush, the composer of a popular anti-regime song, was found dead with his vocal chords removed.

The UN says more than 2,200 people have been killed as security forces crack down on anti-government protests that began in mid-March.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.