THREE British women have been sexually assaulted during a kidnapping ordeal in Libya.

The female aid workers, two of whom are sisters, were among five Britons in a 10-vehicle aid convoy travelling through eastern Libya on its way to the Gaza Strip.

The party was held at gunpoint for several hours before being released.

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The incident happened in the early hours of Tuesday morning as the cars approached Benghazi Airport, shortly after passing through a national army checkpoint.

The British workers were led to an area where the assault took place, security officials said.

The women are now recovering from the ordeal at the Turkish consul in Benghazi and are expected to return to the UK.

A Libyan police official said: "They were on their way to Benghazi when they were stopped shortly after passing a checkpoint manned by the national army. They were then led to a place where the crime happened."

The convoy was taking aid to Gaza on a journey that had taken them through several countries, including Morocco, Tunisia and then Libya.

It had intended to cross the border with Egypt, but had not made it through the crossing.

Other convoy members were believed to be still near the border.

A Libyan interior ministry spokesman, Majdi al-Ourfi, said four men had been arrested in connection with the incident.

An army official claimed those arrested were believed to be former members of the security forces who were dismissed from their jobs a few months ago.

Abdul Barghathi, commander of preventative security in the Libyan defence ministry, added: "Because there is no British consulate here they were handed to the Turkish consulate."

Benghazi, Libya's second biggest city, has seen frequent bouts of violence in recent months, including September's deadly attack on the United States mission in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.