France is to repatriate the children of Islamic State fighters held in Syria, it has emerged, in a move which could put pressure on Britain to do the same.
French officials have said they will decide on a case-by-case basis which of the estimated 150 children – currently held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – would be taken home.
The mothers will also have to agree to be separated from their children, most of whom are under the age of six.
Paris is concerned that if these minors are left in Syria they are at risk of radicalisation and could eventually also become militants.
"French authorities are now entering an active phase of evaluation on the possibility of repatriating minors," one official said. "It is in the best interest of the children.”
A Western diplomat with knowledge of the plan told the Telegraph the British government was “not happy” when it was first floated. “They were worried it would put more pressure on them to take responsibility for their own, which they absolutely don’t want to do,” he said.
The Telegraph understands that at least two, possibly more, British women and their four children are currently being held in a camp in northern Syria.
The children, despite being born in territory controlled by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), will have inherited citizenship from their British-born parents.
UK authorities have so far refused calls to take back any of its nationals detained by the SDF, going to the lengths in the case of the two “Beatles” of revoking their citizenship.
The repatriation of minors from a warzone is fraught with challenges.
France cannot take the children directly from the SDF because they are not a legally recognised authority, nor can they take them from the government in Syria, with whom France has no diplomatic relations.
According to diplomats the Telegraph spoke to, the plan is for the children to be handed over to the Bashar al-Assad government in Damascus, where they will then be transferred to neighbouring Lebanon.
French officials said the mothers would be left in Syria to be prosecuted by local authorities, however the SDF has previously said it will not try any foreign suspects.
David Toube, director of policy at the London-based counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, said repatriating children of former Isil members was a sensible policy.
“Good for the French. You can not abandon children to their fate,” he said. These children are French citizens, it would be very improper to exclude them on the basis that their parents may have done terrible things.”
A senior UK security source told The Telegraph that the Government would not seek to separate children from their mothers.
They said: "We would always have an obligation to children if they are British citizens and the Government would seek to keep mothers and children together."
France, the UK and other European nations, have been wrestling with how to handle suspected militants and their families seeking to return from battlefields in Syria.
France in particular has suffered a series of deadly militant attacks over the past three years and is grappling with the threat of homegrown militancy, as well as the risks posed by fighters slipping back across French borders.
Paris is also understood to have last week allowed the transfer of one its male Isil suspects from Syria to authorities in Baghdad, in what would be the first such handover between the SDF and Iraq.
The fighter was sent across the border along with a Palestinian and a German, according to two sources.
Such a move would be controversial as Iraq carries the death penalty, which France opposes.
Several foreign women and men have been sentenced to death in Baghdad’s central criminal court since it began hearing cases last year.