Wounded Syrians flown to Germany for care

Germany on Monday airlifted more than 30 badly wounded Syrian refugees from Jordan for medical care in its hospitals in what it called a "humanitarian gesture" amid the bloody civil war.

The injured, among them women and children, were flown aboard a specially equipped air force plane and were to be transferred to four German military hospitals in cities including Berlin and Hamburg.

"The civil war in Syria has already claimed far too many lives," said Westerwelle at a press conference with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi.

"We want to make a small contribution to lessen the unimaginable suffering of the people of Syria, and we want to show that Germany at this time of hardship is especially close to the Syrian people."

Syrian opposition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib had requested the help -- believed to be the first medical airlift of its kind by a European nation amid the more than two-year-old Syrian conflict.

Westerwelle refused to be drawn on whether any rebel fighters were among the wounded, saying that the 36 patients were selected strictly according to medical, not political criteria.

"If someone is lying on the operating table and must be saved, then the doctor doesn't ask, 'how were you injured?', but 'how can we help?' - and that's how Germany is looking at it," said Westerwelle.

He called the medical airlift "a humanitarian gesture" that was meant to strengthen the status and authority of the moderate opposition forces, which were a "visible, credible alternative to the Assad regime."

A foreign ministry spokesman said Germany might organise similar airlifts in future, but that no further flights were planned as yet.

Last month Germany said it was ready to take in another 5,000 Syrian refugees in coming months, raising the total to about 13,000 since early 2012.

The conflict in Syria, which started as a political uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, has now claimed some 70,000 lives, according to the United Nations.