The reported killings late on Thursday afternoon came on the eve of a special session of the UN Human Rights Council called to discuss the conflict.
“The workers were on a bus when they were forced to stop at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Qusayr,” said Salim Kabbani of the local coordination committees, which organise protests on the ground.
“Regime forces tied their hands behind their backs and shot them.”
Kabbani said abuses had become routine in Qusayr, a town southwest of the flashpoint central city of Homs. “The checkpoint where the workers were killed is dangerous and people are often tortured there.”
Several areas of Qusayr have been under non-stop shelling by government forces, Kabbani said. “We have a very high number of wounded, and we fear many of them will die because we don’t have the medical materials we need to treat them.”
Amateur video posted on YouTube by activists showed bodies lain out side by side, several with bullet wounds to the head.
The footage, purportedly shot when rebel fighters reached the scene to recover the bodies, included the voice of one man crying out: “This is my son, my son,” as he tugged in vain at the leg of a corpse lying face up, his blue shirt and white trousers covered in blood.
Another video posted on Friday showed hundreds of people in Qusayr taking to the streets for a joint funeral for the slain workers.
A man bearing the Syrian independence flag led the cortege. Crowds chanted: “Oh God, we only have you to turn to,” and: “We won’t surrender, we won’t surrender.”
Green branches were laid on the white shrouds wrapped over the corpses as they were carried by pallbearers through the town.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had asked the UN military observer mission in Syria to visit Qusayr as soon as possible to investigate the latest killings.
The Observatory’s head Rami Abdel Rahman said the persistent bloodshed made a mockery of the UN-backed ceasefire that was supposed to take effect from April 12.
“The ceasefire has been dead for a month,” he said, adding that, according to Observatory figures, a full 2 287 of the more than 13 400 people killed in the 15-month uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad had come since the nominal start of the truce.
“In Qusayr, the regime has shelled incessantly in recent days because it is trying to regain control of an area it has lost control to rebels,” Abdel Rahman said.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay told the council meeting in Geneva that the escalating conflict threatened the entire region.
In a statement read to the session, she called on the international community to throw its weight behind the peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
“Otherwise, the situation in Syria might descend into a full-fledged conflict and the future of the country, as well as the region as a whole could be in grave danger,” she said. – Sapa-AFP