Toronto mother Thwaiba Kanafani swaps city life for Syrian war zone

Nadine Kalinauskas
Good News Writer
Daily Brew

Damascus-born Thwaiba Kanafani, 41, moved to Canada in 2002. She's a trained engineer. She's a mother of two young children.

And she'll soon be made a commander of the Free Syrian Army.

In May, Kanafani left her apartment in Toronto for the Syrian battle zone, a decision, she says, surprised her family and friends.

"I just decided. I didn't seek permission from anybody," she told the National Post.

Kanafani had been closely following the conflict in Syria, communicating with activists and other Syrians online. Kanafani wanted to help fight against the Assad regime — from the front lines.

"When you see that kids are being killed this way, women are being raped, men and women, everybody is being killed," she said in an interview over Skype with the National Post. "You can't sit down. I was burning in my chair, I can't continue ignoring this."

[ Related: Syria hit by diplomatic defection ]

There have been an estimated 17,129 deaths, including almost 12,000 civilian deaths, since the uprising began.

This spring, Kanafani and her family traveled to Egypt — her husband and children are currently there — and then Turkey, where she was connected with Syrian rebels who then gave her some weapons training.

Kanafani is now being used in a more strategic role in the Free Army, the National Post reports, helping to better organize and unite the rebel factions.

One report claims more than 100,000 Syrians have defected from the Syrian army to join the Free Army, many of them high-ranking officers.

Kanafani's bold move answers a call that foreign ministers are begin to demand of their countries: Direct foreign intervention is needed in Syria.

"What should worry outside governments is that the Syrian Free Army is only the fighting arm of what has become effectively a civil war against the Alawite-dominated government and its supporters," former diplomat Harry Sterling writes in the Vancouver Sun.

"The only way to avoid an even greater bloodbath after Assad's departure is to send a large-scale military force into Syria — as was done in Bosnia where Canadian troops were deployed — to prevent that turbulent nation's divided population from turning on each other, unleashing uncontrollable violence and bloodshed against entire communities."

Kanafani hopes the revolution is nearing an end: she has a return ticket booked for two months in the future:

"I'm hoping the revolution will be over in this period of time. If not, then I don't know if I will extend my stay, because I feel so bad. I am leaving my soul. It is going to be very difficult for me to leave while the revolution is still on."

Unfortunately, with arms deliveries currently delayed, Syrian rebels worry their insurgency will be weakened in the coming weeks.

"It is an injustice because we don't have any stores inside the country," one activist with knowledge of the delays in weapons delivery told the Financial Times. "We cannot fight this regime without ammunition. It is without balance — tanks against bodies."

[ Related: Rape, assault are weapons of war in Syria: rights group ]