Syrian opposition groups say Fadwa Suleiman, a Syrian actress who took center stage at anti-government protests in the early days of the uprising against President Bashar Assad, has died. She was 46.

The Syrian National Coalition opposition group said Thursday that Suleiman passed away in Paris after a long struggle with illness. Friends confirmed she had passed away from a chronic illness.

Suleiman, who hails from Assad's minority Alawite sect, became a hero to many for taking a stand against his family's decades-old rule. She often appeared at peaceful protests in the central city of Homs, giving speeches to inspire the crowds.

She fled to Paris in 2012, fearing for her life as security forces intensified their crackdown on dissent and killed and jailed opponents.