The details available were murky, however, and the bodies had not been identified, making it difficult to establish exactly how or why the men died.
The discovery came as Syria’s state media announced that a big majority of Syrians had voted to approve a new constitution that would allow Assad to remain in power until 2028. U.S. and European leaders have condemned the exercise as meaningless, since it seemed designed primarily to ensure Assad’s survival rather than to implement genuine reforms.
The apparent mass killing in Homs spoke to the rising ferocity of the violence engulfing many parts of Syria as the government seeks to quell the revolt and the once-peaceful protest movement increasingly resorts to arms to resist the onslaught, stirring fears of a civil war that could ignite a wider regional conflict.
The deaths were among 124 reported across Syria on Monday as the government’s efforts to crush the nearly year-long uprising showed no sign of letting up.
They included an additional 25 victims of continued shelling of the Bab Amr neighborhood in Homs, which has been subjected to daily bombardments by tank and artillery fire in a massive offensive that began Feb. 3.
The assault is aimed at crushing anti-government resistance in what had emerged as one of the biggest strongholds of the loosely organized Free Syrian Army rebel movement.
The official news agency SANA reported the funerals on Monday of 16 soldiers and policemen killed in the violence nationwide.
Homs has also become a flash point for sectarian tensions, which have escalated as the regime, dominated by members of Assad’s minority Alawite sect, has sustained its efforts to quell a revolt embraced by the country’s mostly Sunni majority. There have been recent instances of sectarian killings in the city, and some activists said they could not rule out a sectarian dimension to this apparent massacre.
Trying to flee
Activists contacted in Homs said they thought the men were killed mainly because they were originally from Bab Amr. Fighting had displaced them weeks ago to outlying areas of the city, which they sought to flee overnight Sunday when those areas came under heavy attack.
Abu Emad, who spoke from Homs via Skype, said the men were among a large group of families that were leaving those areas when their vehicles were stopped at a checkpoint close to the main highway leading to Damascus.