Ofer Dekel, the government's point man for negotiating the return of Israeli hostages, said yesterday that had he informed the Dawit family that their son's body was possibly found in Lebanon, Hezbollah's asking price for its return might have been upped and the negotiations might have dragged on much longer. Dekel stressed, however, that he did not know for certain until the last minute that it was Dawit.

The body of Gavriel Dawit, who drowned off the Israeli coast in 2005 and was swept into Lebanese waters, was returned by Hezbollah last month in a UN-brokered deal in exchange for a captive Hezbollah fighter and the bodies of two comrades. Dawit was designated "missing" and his family was informed about the body only after the deal had been completed.

In a meeting yesterday with the chair of the Knesset Immigrant Absorption Committee, Michael Nudelman (Kadima) and Colette Avital (Labor), Dekel said that Hezbollah had refused to provide any identifying details about the body in its possession - not even its sex - and the Israelis only presumed it was Dawit. Dekel said he did not want to give the Dawits false hopes.

Following the meeting, Nudelman and Avital issued a statement saying that the matter had been handled in a reasonable fashion, and that the Dawit family had not been discriminated against for being Ethiopian. Nonetheless, Avital is demanding that the intelligence community tell the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee whether it had prior information concerning Dawit's fate, and if so, why this was not given to the family.