Major General Francis Vib-Sanziri, the Ghanian head of the United Nations peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights, died Friday, the UN said.
Vib-Sanziri, 62, who had commanded the multi-national force since September 2017, reportedly died of a heart attack while in the southern Israeli port city of Eilat.
His death comes weeks after the UN renewed the mandate of the 1,000-strong UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) that was dispatched to a buffer zone between Israel and Syria in the Golan in 1974, tasked with monitoring a ceasefire in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
It also comes just weeks after the US recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Israel captured the strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and in 1981 effectively annexed the area, in a move never recognized by the rest of international community, which considers the Golan Heights to be occupied Syrian territory.
Israel paid tribute to Vib-Sanziri who led the force during the difficult period where the Syrian side was engulfed by the civil war and the scene of frequent fighting.
“His experience & leadership were invaluable in commanding UNDOF under difficult and complex circumstances. We pray for his family in this time of mourning,” said a statement from the Israeli Mission to the UN.
We extend our deepest condolences to the UN and Ghana on the sudden passing of Maj. Gen. Francis Vib-Sanziri, Head of UNDOF. His experience & leadership were invaluable in commanding UNDOF under difficult and complex circumstances. We pray for his family in this time of mourning. pic.twitter.com/H6R29BBK5L
— Israel Mission to UN (@IsraelinUN) April 19, 2019
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply saddened” and noted his long service in peacekeeping missions in Liberia, Lebanon, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.
“The Secretary-General extends his heartfelt condolences to General Vib-Sanziri’s family and loved ones and to the Government and the Armed Forces of Ghana,” the statement said.