A leading Hamas official said Thursday that a deal to release abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit could be reached in a single day if Jerusalem would agree to free Palestinian prisoners jailed for life in Israel.

In an interview with Israel Radio, Mahmoud Zahar said Israel needed only to "gather the courage" for such an agreement to be implemented.

The Hamas leader also shot down Israel's request to allow Red Cross officials to visit Shalit, saying it would present a security risk. He did say, however, that Hamas was committed to taking care of its hostages.

About two weeks ago, it was reported that the Shalit family was working with private investigators in an attempt to acquire information about the fate of their son, who was abducted by Palestinian militants two and a half years ago on the Gaza Strip border.

Israel will soon be freeing all the "bargaining chips" it arrested in 2006 in order to trade them for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit: Dozens of Hamas parliamentarians, along with several Hamas ministers, will have to be released within the next year, even if no deal for Shalit is struck, because they will have finished serving their two- to three-year sentences.

Those who have already been released include some of the most senior Hamas officials: then-deputy prime minister Nasser al-Din Shaer, then-minister for Jerusalem affairs Khaled Abu Arafa, then-finance minister Omar Abdel Razek, and Adnan Asfour, Hamas' spokesman in the West Bank.