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In Syria, evidence of new massacre

Evidence of a new massacre -- the third in a week -- surfaced Friday in Syria as a U.N. human rights panel called for an "international, transparent, independent and prompt investigation" into mass killings last week in the township of Houla that left more than 100 people dead, mostly women and children slaughtered in their homes.

Both sides in the conflict reported Friday that the bodies of a dozen workers at a government-run fertilizer factory had been found dumped in a field near the town of Qusair, all apparently executed by gunshots.

The slayings fit a disturbing pattern of motorists and bus passengers being yanked from their vehicles at checkpoints and targeted for assassination, apparently because of their sect or perceived allegiance, or lack of allegiance, to the government of President Bashar Assad.

Government and rebel checkpoints now mark many roads in Syria, especially in conflict zones such as the central province of Homs, where the latest reported mass killing occurred. Some checkpoints have become killing zones or kidnapping sites, according to both sides in the conflict.

The slayings of the factory workers again raised fears that Syria is plunging into a cycle of tit-for-tat sectarian massacres and a possible civil war, concerns voiced this week by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, among others.

An opposition group said the bus carrying the workers was stopped at a military checkpoint, the men were ordered off and executed on the spot. A pro-government group said the men were killed because they worked in a state-run factory.

Lurid video posted online purported to show the victims' battered and apparently defaced bodies.

Alerted to the killings, a U.N. monitoring team was dispatched to the area and confirmed that both the opposition and pro-government groups said at least 12 people were killed in the area.

The incident would be the third massacre reported from Syria in the last week. Thirteen men were slain execution-style near the eastern city of Deir Elzour this week, as well as the house-to-house killings last week of 108 people in Houla.

The Houla massacre galvanized international public opinion against the Syrian government, but Syrian authorities say anti-government "armed groups" carried out the killings, targeting loyalist families, including the relatives of a member of parliament. Washington's U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, called the Syrian government account "a blatant lie."

On Friday, Russia voted against the U.N. Human Rights Council's call for an international investigation of the Houla slayings.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who was visiting Germany, said he still held out hope for a political solution to the Syrian crisis.