Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin said today there has been no progress in third party diplomatic efforts to reach a settlement between the Syrian Army and Christian forces in central Lebanon, but he indicated that Israel does not intend to use its troops in the confrontation.

Begin criticized the Syrians for refusing to meet with U.S. diplomats in Damascus, adding, "We would prefer any crisis to be solved peacefully and through diplomatic efforts." Asked if any progress had been made, Begin replied, "No, not yet at all."

"They [the Syrians] should have left Lebanon long ago," Begin said in an interview on Israel radio. "They should leave now, but we never promised anybody to use our Army to throw them out."

Israeli warplanes shot down two Syrian helicopters Tuesday in Israel's first direct military intervention in central Lebanon on behalf of the Christians.

The prime minister denied reports that Israel and Syria were considering compromise proposals to end the conflict at Zahle and the strategic hills surrounding that Christian city, by declaring, "No discussions whatsoever took place between us and Syria. Syria is at a state of war with Israel. We didn't even have it in our minds to make any suggestions to Syria, but we talk with those who talk with the Syrians . . . ," a reference to the United States.

"What do they [the Syrians] have to do in Lebanon? They came there as a peacekeeping force, and they wage war, cruel war," the prime minister said.