(AP) Activists: Gunmen kill 11 state workers in Syria
By BASSEM MROUE
Gunmen killed 11 workers at a state-owned fertilizer factory in a volatile central Syrian province, activists said Friday, the second execution-style shooting reported in Syria in less than a week.
The shooting near the town of Qusair in Homs province occurred Thursday as the workers were on their way to their jobs in a bus that came under fire, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
A pro-government Facebook page, the Homs News Network, posted photos of 11 men on the floor of what appeared to be a classroom. It blamed the rebel Free Syrian Army, saying the workers were killed for being state employees. The opposition blamed the government.
Syria has grown increasingly chaotic in recent months, possibly spiraling toward civil war, making it difficult to determine responsibility for much of the bloodshed. The government restricts journalists from moving freely, making it nearly impossible to independently verify accounts from either side.
On Thursday, 13 bound corpses, many apparently shot execution-style, were found in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour near the Iraqi border. The men were believed to be workers for an oil company. It was unclear who killed them.
The uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime began in March last year with largely peaceful protests calling for reform. A fierce government crackdown prompted many in the opposition take up arms, transforming the conflict into an insurgency.
The U.N. said in March that more than 9,000 people have been killed during the crisis. Activists put the toll far higher, saying 13,000 have died.
Homs province, where there is significant support for the opposition, has suffered waves of deadly violence. More than 100 people were killed there during a massacre in a cluster of villages known as Houla on Friday and early Saturday. Many of the dead were women and children who were gunned down inside their homes.
The massacre brought immediate worldwide condemnation. The regime and anti-government activists have blamed each other.
On Thursday, Syria claimed up to 800 rebel fighters carried out the Houla massacre, giving its most comprehensive explanation to date of the bloodshed.
The government’s narrative starkly contradicted accounts of witnesses who blamed “shabiha,” the shadowy gunmen who operate on behalf of Assad’s regime. The U.N. also said it had strong suspicions those pro-regime gunmen were responsible for much of the carnage in Houla.
Even if the “shabiha” gunmen were responsible for Houla, however, there was no clear evidence that the regime directly ordered the massacre.
The opposition has called for protests after Friday midday prayers to commemorate the victims of Houla massacre. The government also is noting the killing, calling for special prayers for the victims in mosques across the country.
European countries want the U.N.’s top human rights body to propose a war crimes probe into the Houla killing. Diplomats from the 27-nation European Union are calling for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council to pass a resolution that is stronger than a draft tabled by Qatar, Turkey and the United States.
The current text says “those responsible for serious violations of human rights must be held accountable.”
Three EU officials said the resolution should instead include a call for the U.N. Security Council to consider referring the massacre in Houla to the International Criminal Court. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.
The 47-nation rights council cannot refer cases to the ICC directly.
In another development, a previously unknown Syrian rebel group said it is holding 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims kidnapped on May 22 after crossing into Syria from Turkey on their way to Lebanon.
The group calling itself Syrian Rebels in Aleppo said in a statement obtained by Al-Jazeera TV that the hostages are in good health.
The statement included photographs said to be of the hostages and their passports. Al-Jazeera, which aired the photos Thursday night, did not say how it obtained the material. Its authenticity could not be independently verified.
The group claimed five hostages were members of the militant Lebanese Hezbollah group and demanded its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, apologize for saying last week the kidnapping would not change his group’s pro-Assad stance.
It said negotiations for release of the hostages could begin after Nasrallah apologizes.