Syrian businessmen from around the world have established a $300 million fund to help finance rebel groups fighting the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

This fund has been established to support all components of the revolution in Syria and to establish a strong relationship with businessmen inside and outside Syria and to protect civilians, Wael Merza, secretary general of the opposition Syrian National Council, told reporters in Doha, Qatar.

Half of the money has already been spent, Merza noted.

 We are going to see distinct support of this fund from neighbors [in the Arab world] in a very clear manner, in a matter of weeks. We expect Qatar to play a major role, he added.

Assad’s brutal crackdown on opponents has now stretched on for 15 months and has led to the deaths of at least 9,000 people, amid widespread condemnation by foreign nations.