The Israeli government took the argument over how many civilians its forces killed in Lebanon directly to Washington yesterday.

Retired Lt. Gen. Aharon Yariv, former head of Israeli military intelligence, said at an Israeli Embassy news conference that estimates coming out of Lebanon "are out of all proportion of reality."

Lebanese police two weeks ago estimated 9,583 people had been killed and 16,608 wounded since Israel invaded Lebanon on June 4. The Lebanese Red Cross has put the number of killed in the city of Sidon at 1,000 to 2,000 and wounded at 3,000 to 4,000.

Yariv, as have other Israeli officials, said he could give no estimate of casualties in the Lebanese capital of Beirut and focused instead on the outlying cities of Sidon, Tyre and Nabatiye.

Yariv's civilian casualty estimates were: Sidon, 265 killed, 1,000 wounded; Tyre, 56 killed, 95 wounded; Nabatiye, 10 killed, 15 wounded.

Pressed for a country-wide total of civilians killed, Yariv said, excluding Beirut, "I don't think they'll reach 500."

Turning to Israeli casualties in Lebanon, Yariv said 270 have been killed, terming this toll "not a small price."

He estimated the Palestine Liberation Organization "lost about 1,000 in battle."

Yariv said Israeli forces have captured 5,000 of the original 15,000 PLO troopers in Lebanon. He estimated there were 5,000 to 7,000 PLO troops holed up in Beirut.

Yariv, who has been called temporarily to active duty, said he observed first hand in Lebanon the care Israeli forces took to minimize civilian casualties. He said the Israeli forces tried to coax civilians to get out of harm's way by dropping leaflets on cities and towns and by appealing to them over loudspeakers to seek the safety of the beaches.

He said PLO doctrine made this difficult by instructing its armed units to operate from public and private buildings and refugee camps. PLO troops at those camps threatened to kill any civilians who tried to leave in response to the Israeli entreaties, he said.

"Of course a considerable number of buildings were destroyed," said Yariv of the Israeli bombing and shelling of Lebanese towns and cities in an effort to demolish the PLO.

The general said that to minimize casualties the Israeli invasion force had "psychologists advising division commanders how to get civilians to give up."

He declined to say whether Israeli forces would enter West Beirut, declaring: "I don't want the PLO to think for a minute that we will not go."

Asked if the Israeli attacks in Lebanon will not radicalize the remnants of the PLO that survive, leading to more extremism in the Middle East and Europe, Yariv replied: "I don't think there will be a heavy intensification."