A small fire was set early yesterday at the Bethesda home of an Egyptian official of the World Bank. Responsibilitey was claimed by an organization purportedly protesting President Carter's approval of the sale of military planes to Egypt.

Montgomery County police said that no one was hurt in the fire, which was started when someone ignited a two-gallon can of gasoline on the front steps of the home of Hussein Mustafa, 7213 Marby Ct. Damage was confined to the exterior of the front door.

Mustafa, 54, an engineer with the International Finance Corp., a World Bank affiliate, was asleep inside along with his 10-year-old son and wife when the arson took place at 2 a.m.

The arson was one in a series of terrorist incidents, major and minor, that have hit the Washington area in the last two years. Many have involved struggles among foreigners played out on American soil in a city that increasingly is at the center of international intrigue.

A few, like yesterday's have been described as protests of American policy.

The fire burned the wooden door and scorched the front steps of the two-story brick home in a residential area of Bethesda. Damage was estimated at $300.

Police said a tiny, recently formed group calling itself the Jewish Committee of Concern claimed credit for the fire in anonymous phone calls after the fire to the Associated Press and United Press International.

Established Jewish organizations condemned the attack an many Jewish leaders said they knew nothing of the Jewish Committee of Concern. The arson was called "a reprehensible attempt to make a political statement" by the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, which represents 200 Jewish organizations in the Washington area.

A half-hour after the incident at the Mustafa residence, the Associated Press received a call from a man who incorrectly identified Mustafa as an "Egyptian U.N. official" and said the Jewish Committee of Concern was responsible for the arson.

The man also said "Egypt, which still seeks Israel's destruction, should not receive lethal U.S. jet fighters," the Associated Press reported.

The United Press International received an almost identical call about 2:45 a.m., police said.

Victor Vancier, executive director of the Jewish Committee of Concern, contacted at his home in Queens, N. Y., denied that his group was responsible for the fire yesterday but said, "It's conceivable that members of our group did it. Officially, we don't know anything about it.

Vancier, 22, a former member of Jewish Defense League said the Jewish Committee was formed three weeks ago. Although the FBI in Baltimore and Washington and officials of established Jewish organizations said they had never heard of the new Jewish committee, Vancier claimed his group has 350 members, including 200 members from the New York City area and 30 from the Washington area.

Police in New York had been investigating claimed involvement by the same group in the Feb. 5 firebombing of the Pelham, N. Y., home of an Egyptian employee at the United Nations.

Police said there were striking similarities between that case and the incident yesterday at the Mustafa residence. Both target were Egyptians but not officials of the Egyptian government. In both cases, the fire was set in the early morning hours and damage was limited to the front doors of the houses.

Law enforcement sources here and in New York City said they believe the Jewish committee is an offshoot of the militant Jewish Defense League. However, Bonnie Pechter, the League's national director, said the Jewish committee "is not connected with us in any way" although some committee members once belonged to the Jewish Defense League.

Mustafa, who evaluates the proposals for industrial projects made by firms and countries seeking loans from the World Bank, said he could think of no reason why he would be the target of an arson.

"I have no enemies," Mustafa said. "We are not politicians, we are technical people," he said of his work at the World Bank, which was established to aid the economic development of its member nations by making loans to governments and private enterprises.

Mustafa said he was awakened about 2 a.m. by a "crackling noise" in the front of his house and found the burning can of gasoline when he opened his front door. He was able to put out much of the fire before fire-fighters arrived by pouring buckets of water on the flaming can.

The Mustafa incident ranks as a relatively minor terrorist incident in the Washington area.

On Sept. 21, 1976, Orlando Letelier, who was high official in the Chilean government under the late Marxist President Salvador Allende, was killed along with a colleague when a bomb exploded in his car as he moved on Sheridan Circle along Washington's Embassy Row.

Last July the Rockville residence of Washinton's chief pro-Israel lobbyist, Morris Amitay, was bombed in the early morning. No one was injured in that incident. Police never have found a suspect or a clear motive for the bombing.

The last September, anti-Castro Cubans claimed responsibility for two bomb explosions - one on a traffic island on E Street NW near the White House and one outside Soviet offices at 16th and L streets NW.

In April of last year, a National Airport custodian was killed when a pipe bomb exploded in a tool box in an employe locker room. Police have not been able to determine if the incident was directed at an individual or was an act of airport terrorism.

Despite the growing frequency of terrorist attacks here, FBI officials said it is extremely dificult to make arrests in connection with them.

"What is there, 210 million people in the U. S.?" asked Nick Stames, agent in charge of the FBI's Washington field office. "Any one of 210 million people in the United States can come into Washington, plant a bomb and leave . . . All we can do is speculate" as to who is responsible, he said.

Stames said FBI efforts at monitoring terrorist groups has been hampered by new regulations that bar the agency from infiltrating such groups.

"The Washington area is naturally susceptible to attack," he added. "You've got all the embassies here and the (U. S.) government structure is here. So if anybody wants to make noise, this is the place to make noise."