Syria businessmen abroad set up fund for rebels

DOHA (Reuters) - Syrian businessmen living abroad have created a $300 million fund to support rebels fighting forces of President Bashar al-Assad, opposition activists said on Wednesday.

“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 the Qatari capital.

Assad named a Baath Party stalwart to form a new government on Wednesday, signaling no political concessions to Syria’s 15-month-old uprising.

Merza said that half of the $300 million had already been spent, some of which were contributions to the rebel Free Syrian Army.

“The majority of support given (to the rebels) will be on the technical side,” Merza said. “It’s also logistical support to our people on the ground.”

“Yes, we supported the Free (Syrian) Army to protect civilians,” said Mustafa Sabbagh, president newly-formed Syrian Business Forum of businessmen in exile.

The fund will be based in Doha, Merza said.

Merza said Russia’s call for an international meeting was “an acceptable move in the right direction.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for a broad international meeting on the crisis in Syria with the aim of reviving former United Nations chief Kofi Annan’s peace plan, but made clear he believed Assad’s opponents were responsible for its failure so far.

The Annan plan calls for a negotiated end to the Syrian crisis after a ceasefire that has yet to take hold.

Merza hinted at strong financial support from oil-rich Gulf Arab states for the new fund.

“We are going to see distinct support of this fund from neighbors in a very clear manner, in a matter of weeks. We expect Qatar to play a major role,” he said.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal called on the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to put Annan’s plan under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, a measure that could authorize the use of force.

Reporting by Regan Doherty; Editing by Rosalind Russell