JERUSALEM — Two former members of a militant Jewish group that was led by now-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir have admitted they took part in the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden 40 years ago while he was serving as U.N. mediator in Palestine, according to Dan Margalit of Israel's state-run Educational Television.
It was the first time that members of the underground group, Lohamei Herut Yisrael (Israel Freedom Fighters), widely known as the Stern Gang, openly admitted to the killing, Margalit said.
Yehoshua Zeitler and Meshulam Markover told Margalit in interviews, one of which was broadcast by Educational Television on Friday, that they directed and led the operation to kill Bernadotte on Sept. 17, 1948, on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
Shamir's role in the Bernadotte case has never been clearly spelled out, but Swedish and other historians maintain that, as one of the three leaders of the Stern Gang, he would have had a key role in planning the killing.
Responding to the disclosures, Shamir's Cabinet director, Yossi Ahimeir, said: "Mr. Shamir looks forwards, not backwards. I am sure he will not say anything about this, but he did not take part in either deciding the operation or carrying it out."
Bernadotte's assassination, along with that of an aide who was killed at the same time, sent shock waves around the world, especially in view of Bernadotte's humanitarian work in Europe as leader of the Swedish Red Cross during and immediately after World War II.
Zeitler, according to interviews with Margalit, said he decided to kill Bernadotte after the 53-year-old Swede made far-reaching proposals on the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states as a result of the shifting battle lines during Israel's fight for independence.