Israel today rejected appeals by the United States to agree to a cease-fire in the escalating war of attrition in Lebanon, and said it "will continue to defend the citizens of Israel" against attacks by Palestinian guerrillas.

Following nearly two hours of discussions tonight with U.S. special envoy Philip C. Habib -- their second meeting in two days -- Prime Minister Menachem Begin invited Habib to continue his attempts to arrange a peaceful solution to the cross-border attacks by both sides.

But, Begin made it clear, Israel expects Habib to deal with Lebanese President Elias Sarkis and his government, and not "the terrorist organizations [that] incessantly attack the territory of Israel and murder and maim its citizens."

[In Beirut, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat agreed to accept a cease-fire if Israel abandons its policy of preemptive strikes. Page A24.]

[Despite the Israeli position, the White House expressed limited optimism about the prospect of an eventual cease-fire, Washington Post staff writer Lou Cannon reported.]

["While there has not been agreement to a cease-fire, the process is continuing," White House counselor Edwin Meese III said on Air Force One as President Reagan returned to Washington from the economic summit at Ottawa. "Begin agreed with Habib that he should go now to Lebanon and continue the peace process. We see that as a favorable development."]

[The United Nations Security Council also called for "an immediate cessation of all armed attacks," along the Lebanese-Israeli border, Reuter reported. At the same time, Palestinian guerrillas said Israel attacked two areas in southern Lebanon several hours after midnight with planes and troops backed by tanks and gunboat shelling, the news agency reported. There was no immediate confirmation from Israel]

Habib said he would continue his effort to secure a cease-fire along the Israeli-Lebanese border, where a constant barrage of artillery and rocket fire has been sustained by both sides for 12 days. Official estimates of casualties have put more than 300 civilians dead, most of them killed in a massive Israeli air strike against Palestinian guerrilla headquarters in central Beirut last week.

In saying that the "government of Israel will under no circumstances conduct negotiations directly or indirectly" with the Palestine Liberation Organization, Begin made no mention of the fact that the spiraling cross-border violence has been conducted exclusively between the Palestinians and Israel, backed by the Israeli-supported Christian militias of southern Lebanon, and that the Lebanese Army has not been a party to the belligerence.

Begin, in the statement approved earlier in the day by his Cabinet, called the Palestinians "Arab terrorist organizations whose declared aim is the destruction of Israel and its people, and to intentionally turn their arms, which are supplied to them in large quantities by the Soviet Union, Syria and Libya, against the Jewish civilian population.

"Likewise, the government of Israel will not authorize any body to conduct negotiations with the aforementioned terrorist organizations."

Begin said the Cabinet decided to "agree" that Habib continue his efforts and "embark upon contacts with the president of Lebanon, Mr. Sarkis, with the aim of establishing peaceful relations between Israel and Lebanon, from where the terrorist organizations" attack Israel.

After his meeting with Begin, Habib told reporters "on the basis of the statement of the government of Israel, as presented to me by the prime minister, I will continue my mission, as directed by President Reagan, to seek to secure a cease-fire along the Lebanese border as a first step to bringing calm to the area."

Neither Begin nor Habib mentioned the U.S. decision to continue to withhold delivery of 10 F16 fighter-bombers to Israel, which, in part, was based on the June 7 Israeli bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor.

However, following the five-hour Israeli Cabinet meeting before the Begin-Habib talks, Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zippori said that while he was "very unhappy" with the freeze on the F16s' delivery, he did not regard it as a crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations.

"Let us just say that in every good family from time to time there are some arguments, and we will argue our points and positions and overcome it and everything will be as good as it used to be always," Zippori said.

When asked whether Israel would ever agree to a negotiated cease-fire with the Palestinian guerrillas, Zippori said, "we have nothing in common with the Palestine Liberation Organization and we never will. If the Lebanese authorities one day will approach us for discussions, we will be happy to do it."

The Cabinet's decision came amid mounting pressure on Begin to accept the principle of negotiating a cease-fire with the Palestinians, pressure that has been heightened by sharp international criticism of Israeli bombing last Friday of PLO headquarters in densely populated civilian quarters of Beirut.

Reports from the United Nations indicated that PLO chief Yasser Arafat has promised to consider a negotiated cease-fire with Israel. Arafat conveyed his promise to Maj. Gen. William Callaghan, commander of the U.N. interim force in Lebanon in a meeting yesterday.

Meanwhile, israeli planes today conducted bombing raids again on Palestinian positions in southern Lebanon, knocking out artillery emplacements in the Nabatiyeh and Rashidiyeh areas that allegedly have been responsible for shelling Israeli civilian centers in the northern Galilee area.

However, the U.N. command in Naqura said today's artillery duels were begun by the Israelis.