Freeing Gilad / New Players Appear on Mideast Stage

The efforts to release the kidnapped Israeli soldier and the renewed fighting between Israel and the Palestinians have given some unusual players a chance to appear on the world stage.

On Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent his adviser, Ahmet Davudoglu, to Damascus to speak with President Bashar Assad. To speak, not to negotiate, because Assad explained to the Turkish emissary that Damascus did not have a hand in the abduction and has no influence over the kidnappers.

For Erdogan, who invited the Hamas leadership to visit Ankara after the Palestinian elections in February and who constantly criticizes Israel's attitude toward Hamas, it was a good opportunity to show that his policies had paid off, because Turkey is now able to influence Hamas.

The Turkish initiative, which got wide coverage in that country, is most welcome, but it is unlikely to have practical results. It is also not unconnected with the Turkish foreign minister's visit to Washington this week. What can better contribute to improving ties with Washington than a show of good will?

Turkey, which was asked by Washington and Jerusalem to try to use its good offices with Assad, is not the only one. Even before the famous Israeli flight over Assad's palace, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov began examining whether Assad could assist in tracking down the kidnappers - an opportunity to show a presence where the United States could not.

Lavrov, who also had a role in legitimizing Ismail Haniyeh's Palestinian government, understood from Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus that Hamas had not initiated the abduction and that it did not know who was in fact behind it.

China was also among the countries that offered to "make efforts," but its representatives made do with a talk with Assad.

As an Egyptian official put it: "There are two circles of mediators - those who can and those who think they can."

Those who can include Egypt, Saudi Arabia and certain circles in the Palestinian Authority - not official circles, but some of those involved in armed groups, youngsters who apparently know the abductors.

Certain such young people from Nablus and Ramallah are known to be in touch by telephone and Internet with the armed groups in Gaza. A request went out to the Palestinian Preventive Security Service to check whether these people could serve as intermediaries with the kidnappers.

The Egyptian source said that those who "think they can" would like to put in a short appearance on the Israeli-Palestinian scene. They include Russia, Turkey and France (all of whom Washington and Jerusalem chid for legitimizing Hamas) as well as Qatar. Now their good ties with Hamas seem to lend hope of a breakthrough.

On Wednesday, the Egyptian mediating process reached a standstill, and even a planned visit by its intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, to Israel, Damascus and the PA wa s postponed. But Suleiman's aides are still in Gaza, hoping to find ties that lead to the kidnappers.