Syrian UN Envoy de Mistura has announced the Geneva meeting between the long-battling government and rebel groups. Despite six years of entrenched conflict, one NGO provides hope for deaf Syrians.
"My current intention is to bring the invitees back to Geneva for a fifth round, with a target date of the 23rd of March," Staffan de Mistura told journalists after briefing the UN Security Council in New York on the outcome of the previous round of talks.
He added that the newly scheduled talks to take place in the Swiss city would focus on four key issues: governance, constitutional construction, elections and counterterrorism measures, "including the security organization and confidence-building measures."
His announcement came as the conflict between supporters of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and various countering parties, from the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) group, who also fight one another, reaches its sixth year.
Mistura added that the newly announced talks would build off the fourth round, which ended on March 3, and that the participants would remain the same, including both government and rebel delegations.
IS and other militant groups, such as the Fatah al-Sham Front, have not been invited to attend.
Further talks in Astana
The Geneva talks form one of multiple efforts to resolve the violent conflict that has displaced hundreds of thousands of Syrians and decimated the Middle Eastern nation.
Key players Russia, Iran and Turkey will likely meet in Astana ahead of the UN-backed talks, repeating a previous encounter in the Kazakh capital. Their discussion will center on safeguarding the mutually agreed but fragile ceasefire that is set to last until March 20.
US sends conventional forces
The United States voiced its support for fresh Geneva talks aimed at achieving a lasting peace in Syria but also criticized Iran for its role in the conflict.
"This is very much about a political solution now at this point and that basically means Syria can no longer be a safe haven for terrorists," US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told reporters, before adding, "We've got to make sure that we get Iran and their proxies out."
On Wednesday, a US official also revealed to AFP that the US has deployed a Marine Corps artillery battery to the embattled city of Raqqa to aid the SDF in their offensive against IS.
The sending of troops from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit marks a significant step in US military engagement in Syria. Previous ground troops were special operations forces limited to training and assisting the SDF.
Deaf Syrians express war trauma
Alongside the step-up in US involvement and the future talks, NGOs continue their work of providing badly needed assistance to war-weary Syrians - and often hope, as well.
In Damascus, two young deaf Syrians are inventing a sign language to enable other Syrians like themselves to be able to talk about their experiences over the past six years.
The group has created signs for "IS" as well as for its Arabic acronym "Daesh," and ways to express war experiences such as kidnappings.
"We had to invent words that didn't exist in the vocabulary of the deaf in Syria so they can exchange information and express their feelings about the violence," deputy head of the organization Wisal al-Ahdab said.
Once the signs have been finalized, the group films them and posts the footage on Facebook so the rest of Syria's approximately 20,000 deaf people can access it and begin to communicate their own traumatic - and oftentimes hereto unexpressed - experiences.
cmb/jm (AFP, AP)