Activists: Gunmen execute 11 state workers in Syria

In this May 29, 2012 image provided by Edlib News Network ENN, Syrians gather around a U.N. observers vehicle during a demonstration in Kfarnebel, Idlib province, Syria. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Syria on Thursday to stop its attacks, saying the U.N. observers monitoring the cease-fire were not there to watch the killing of innocent people.
AP Photo/Edlib News Network

(CBS/AP) BEIRUT - 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.

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On Thursday, Syria claimed up to 800 rebel fighters carried out the Houla massacre last week, in which more than 100 people were killed - most of them women and children. The Assad government blamed "armed militias armed with heavy weapons" - a claim met with astonishment around the world, said Channel 4 correspondent Alex Thompson, reporting from Damascus for "CBS This Morning."

"That will be believed by almost nobody outside of the Syrian government itself," Thompson said.

The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, dismissed the finding as "another blatant lie."

The Assad government restricts journalists from moving freely, making it nearly impossible to independently verify accounts from either side. However, Thompson reports that he has personally witnessed heavy weapons being used in Houla, "and they were very much in the hands of the Syrian Army and authorities - not in the hands of any militias."

The government's narrative starkly contradicted accounts of witnesses who blamed "shabiha," the shadowy gunmen who operate on behalf of Assad's regime.

The opposition has called for protests after Friday midday prayers to commemorate the victims of last week's massacre in Houla massacre.

Thompson reports that while Syrian authorities cannot stop the spontaneous demonstrations held after Friday prayers, they do suppress them with brutality. Shooting on sight is routine.

Making matters worse, if you are shot in such a situation, said Thompson, you cannot get treatment in a hospital because you will be arrested. The only way to recovery is to be treated in a safe-house, where doctors putting their liberty on the line trying to help you.

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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.

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.

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.

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.