After meeting more than three hours with U.S. special envoy Philip C. Habib, Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir said tonight that two issues stand in the way of an agreement for evacuation of Palestinian guerrillas from West Beirut: timing of the arrival of a multinational force and participation of U.N. cease-fire observers.
Habib, who went to Beirut late today for more talks there, is expected back in Jerusalem later in the week with what Israeli officials said was further information they are seeking.
The Israeli Cabinet accepted the withdrawal plan crafted by Habib "in principle" yesterday but demanded as a "precondition" to negotiations over its details a complete listing of the guerrillas' names and their destinations in the Arab world.
Habib appeared to have satisfied the Israelis that the demand would be met. Shamir said tonight in a radio interview that he is satisfied that there are now enough places for all the guerrillas to go. Officials here spoke in increasingly optimistic terms about the prospects for success. Shamir said "an agreement is near."
In an interview published today, Prime Minister Menachem Begin said, "We are all pleased with the Habib plan. If everything goes as planned, the implementation of the evacuation will begin next week."
Habib, in a rare public comment, also expressed optimism. United Press International said that Lebanon's state radio quoted the envoy as saying, "All we have to do is work out the details . . . The political solution will be very soon."
The plan drafted by Habib calls for the evacuation of the Palestine Liberation Organization fighters over a 15-day period. The withdrawal is expected to begin within a week of a final agreement involving Israel, Lebanon, the PLO and the three countries that are to supply troops for the multinational force -- the United States, France and Italy.
Habib met for two hours this morning with Begin, Shamir and Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. He returned for a second meeting of more than an hour with the three this afternoon. Uri Porat, Begin's chief spokesman, described the meetings as "good."
"We made progress," he said. "We are now waiting for further information from ambassador Habib."
While the diplomatic developments produced increased optimism, the fighting continued in Beirut. Military authorities announced that nine Israeli soldiers were wounded during the day in exchanges of fire with the Palestinian guerrillas. Israeli planes bombed West Beirut for three hours beginning at noon, shortly after the end of Habib's first meeting with Begin.
Israeli sources said that the Cabinet's conditional acceptance of the evacuation plan yesterday resulted in nine suggested Israeli amendments to the proposal. Some of these were accepted by Habib and others were dropped by the Israelis, the sources said.
Of the two remaining issues cited by Shamir, the more difficult appeared to be the timing of the deployment of the multinational force. It is to be composed of 800 French troops, 800 U.S. Marines and 400 Italian troops, and is to be supported by regular Lebanese Army units.
Israel has been insisting that no portion of the force be allowed into Beirut until more than half of the estimated 5,000 to 10,000 PLO guerrillas as well as Syrian troops surrounded there have left. Israel contends that the early deployment of the multinational force would provide the guerrillas with a protective "screen" to hide behind if they renege on their promise to leave.
But the plan submitted to Israel earlier this week proposed that a contingent of 200 to 300 French troops enter Beirut shortly before the evacuation begins. The United States supports such an early deployment of units of the multinational force, agreeing with the PLO contention that the guerrillas should have some protection when they first leave their fortified positions and head out of the city.
Sharon told Israeli television that "the central sticking point" is American insistence that the French "should enter the first day," The Associated Press reported. He said Israel's gravest concern about the evacuation plan is the multinational force because, he said, each of the foreign forces "operates separately according to the orders of its government."
It was understood tonight that Israel has informed Habib that while it remains opposed to deployment of multinational force units before the evacuation begins, it could accept a small number at an early stage. The Israelis were understood to have suggested that the first units to take up positions in the city be Lebanese or, if that is unacceptable, American.
But Israel was said to remain opposed to the first units being French because of what Israeli officials consider the pro-Palestinian policies of the French government.
French troops were proposed for the initial deployment, according to informed sources, because the French were willing to accept the task while the other governments involved in the negotiations, including the United States, were reluctant to expose their troops to what is likely to be one of the most perilous aspects of the operation if and when the Palestinians begin marching out of the besieged city.
Israel was also understood to have pressed Habib to drop the portion of the plan that calls for the stationing of U.N. cease-fire observers around Beirut. Israel has long considered the United Nations to be an anti-Israeli forum and last week it rejected a Security Council resolution authorizing the deployment of cease-fire observers in the city.
The general optimism shown by Israeli officials was buttressed by Syria's formal announcement last night that it is willing to accept as many of the PLO guerrillas as want to come. An Israeli official called the Syrian announcement "obviously a step forward."
Asked if Israel objected to a large number of the guerrillas withdrawing to another country that borders Israel, an official said, "We don't mind the PLO members going to any country whose government is in full control of its affairs."
Israel has warned Syria that it will be held responsible for PLO incursions into Israel from Syrian territory. Israeli officials maintain that the Syrian government of President Hafez Assad has demonstrated that it is able to control PLO activity in its territory.
The Associated Press reported from Amman, Jordan:
King Hussein announced that he is prepared to accept those Palestinian guerrillas who previously lived in Jordan.
"If the PLO decides to evacuate West Beirut under acceptable terms, Jordan will welcome those who return with Jordanian passports," the king said in a speech marking the 30th anniversary of his accession to the throne.
He was referring to an unspecified number of Palestinians who lived in Jordan until 1971, when they fled during a bloody war between Palestinian commandos and royalist forces. Palestinian guerrillas who had been using Jordanian territory for operations against Israel later settled in Lebanon.