Syria's government-controlled newspapers gave full coverage today to yesterday's Beirut news conference of Shiite Amal leader Nabih Berri -- with one notable exception.
Nowhere in the published accounts of the Lebanese Moslem leader's remarks was there any mention of his offer to transfer the American hostages to Syria as well as to western embassies in Beirut.
The omission set off immediate speculation that the government of President Hafez Assad favors moving the hostages here, but not placing them under direct Syrian control.
Such perhaps convoluted interpretations here coincided with persistent rumors that the United States and Syria -- each for its own reasons -- would like the hostages moved to the Syrian capital, but in the custody of the French or Swiss embassies.
Damascus is the most secure city in the Middle East, and it is reasoned here that the United States wants the hostages out of the dangerous uncertainties of west Beirut and beyond the reach of both the kidnapers and any possible commando operation mounted by Israel attempting to rescue them.
The Syrians, for their part, have a vital interest in removing the hostages from the control of the more radical Shiites of the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, or Party of God, whose members are believed to have hijacked the TWA airliner two weeks ago at Athens Airport.
At the same time, Syria logically does not want to take physical control of the hostages, for fear of appearing as an accomplice after the fact with the hijackers or even with the more moderate Shiites of Berri's Amal militia.
Moreover, handing the hostages over to a western embassy here -- if only for a few days -- would help deflect possible charges that Syria was actively cooperating with Israel in a deal to free both the Americans and the more than 700 Shiite and other Arab prisoners held at Israel's Atlit Prison.
According to these suggestions, the arrival of the American hos-tages here would in itself signal the conclusion of a package deal, which all parties -- Syria, the United States, Berri, Israel and the embassy involved -- would deny ever existed.
If the hostages were transferred here, Assad could leave for his delayed official visit to Czechoslovakia with the knowledge that a deal had been struck.
And it would also become known that Israel agreed to release all the Atlit prisoners according to a timetable covering a period of several weeks.
Although a delayed release of the Atlit prisoners would fall short of Berri's public demands for a simultaneous release of both sets of detainees, such an outcome would save some face for the Amal leader, who, apparently at Syrian insistence, undertook the seemingly thankless task of seeking to regain control of the hostages from Hezbollah.
Whatever the upshot of events, Syria is unveiling more of its key role in the negotiations with each passing day and letting it be known that it wants a solution quickly.
Syria's condemnation of kidnaping in general and the TWA hijacking in particular was spelled out in a front-page editorial today of Al Baath, the organ of the ruling Arab Baath party, signed by its editorial director, Jbara Nseir.
For the first time in so public and formal a fashion, the regime -- while warning of dire consequences in the event of any U.S. military action -- confirmed its desire, in the words of the editorial, to "help actively in putting an end" to the crisis, in keeping with President Reagan's request to Assad.
Already, Syrians and some diplomats are speculating about what Assad could expect from the United States if the hostage crisis is resolved peacefully with his help.
Most often mentioned is an active American commitment to prevent its ally, Israel, from playing any future role in Lebanon. Specifically, Syria wants Israel to end its support for the South Lebanon Army militia in its security zone in southern Lebanon and to evacuate all Lebanese territory for good.
Such a commitment would require a change of heart by the Reagan administration, which has refused to get substantively involved in Lebanon since the humiliating evacuation of the U.S. Marines from Beirut in February 1984.
That commitment would give Syria a virtual free hand in reordering Lebanon's political institutions in favor of the Moslems -- especially Berri's Shiites -- at the expense principally of the Christians, who long have dominated Lebanese politics.
Assad once again would like to be recognized as a major player in Middle East politics, rather than the Soviet stooge he so often has been characterized as both by Israel and the Reagan administration.