Syrian actress who rallied crowds against Assad dies

A Syrian actress who took centre stage at anti-government protests in the early days of the uprising against President Bashar Assad has died aged 46, opposition groups said.

Fadwa Suleiman died in Paris after a long struggle with illness, the Syrian National Coalition opposition group said.

Friends confirmed she had died 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.

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

The impassioned actress, known for her performances in numerous plays and TV shows and series, soon became a rare female symbol of the rebellion, urging protesters to remain peaceful and focused on their demand for freedom and justice.

As security forces intensified their crackdown on dissent and killed and jailed opponents, she cut her hair short and began moving from house to house to avoid capture.

In 2012, she disguised her appearance and was smuggled out to neighbouring Jordan, from where she continued to Paris in 2012, where she had lived since.

In more recent years, she spoke with anguish about the devastation back home and frequently lamented the armed rebellion, saying it was no longer a rebellion she recognised.

Eulogies poured in on social media for the actress described by many as an icon of the Syrian revolution.

In its statement, the opposition Syrian National Council described Suleiman as a "symbol of the revolution" and a "rose among those that joined the protests and sit-ins of Syrians calling for freedom".

Omar Edelbi, a Syrian journalist and opposition activist, wrote on Twitter: "Each day, our revolution loses one of its voices... Goodbye Fadwa, we promise you we will not be broken."

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