Israeli spies linked to the killing of Hamas head arrested in Syria

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JERUSALEM — Israeli officials have refused to comment about a report that two Mossad operatives were arrested in Syria on charges of helping to arrange the assassination of Islamic Jihad leader Dr. Fathi Shakaki.

When asked about the report, Prime Minister Shimon Peres told reporters he had heard about the arrests only through the media.

According to an article in the weekly magazine U.S. News & World Report, the two alleged operatives — a Palestinian student and a businessman — were arrested in Syria shortly before last week's anti-terror summit in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt.

Israel has never acknowledged any connection to the death of Shakaki, who was shot in the head five times last October in Malta.

As leader of Islamic Jihad, Shakaki was responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israelis in terrorist attacks.

According to U.S. News & World Report, the Islamic Jihad leadership in Damascus launched an inquiry after the slaying to find out who leaked the whereabouts of Shakaki, who was traveling in Malta on a forged passport.

The inquiry led to the Palestinian student, who had been close to the dead terrorist leader.

According to the report, the student was recruited by Israel's Mossad intelligence agency 4-1/2 years ago in Bulgaria and instructed to become close to Shakaki.

After he was arrested, the student submitted a 40-page confession in which he reportedly identified his handler, a businessman who worked out of Cyprus.

U.S. News' correspondent in Israel, David Makovsky, who also writes for the Jerusalem Post, was interviewed on television and radio and stood by the credibility of the article and its author, Brian Duffy.