Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told opposition leaders Friday that his government has no intention of evacuating Jewish settlers from the occupied West Bank town of Hebron, a key Palestinian demand after the Feb. 25 massacre of about 30 Arab worshipers in Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs.

In a meeting meant to diffuse a torrent of criticism from Israel's political right of Thursday's unprecedented agreement to permit armed, international observers in Hebron, the prime minister stressed that "at this stage" of peace negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization, the government has dropped the issue of Hebron's settlers from the agenda, according to opposition leaders and Rabin's aides.That wording appeared to leave open the possibility of removing the 415 settlers in the future.

Rabin's assurance, which met with mixed reviews from Israel's political right, came as the potentially explosive issue began to tear into the state's political foundations. Senior Israeli officials indicated Friday that the government's decision to permit foreign troops in the occupied lands for the first time in a quarter century was not only a compromise to persuade the PLO to return to talks on permanent Palestinian autonomy, but also an attempt to compromise on an internal Israeli debate on the settlements issue.

One member of Rabin's government publicly linked the two issues Friday. In an interview on Israel Radio, Economic Minister Shimon Shitreet declared that he hopes the agreement to permit the armed observer force will end the debate over of the settlers.

"I hope that the fact that there are international observers, that all those who suggest moving out the Jewish residents of Hebron will stop talking about it," said Shitreet, who is considered one of the most conservative members of Rabin's Cabinet.

"This is enough," he said.

After New York-born physician Baruch Goldstein's attack on praying Palestinians in the mosque at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the PLO demanded that the government remove the settlers from Hebron. Reports followed that the government was weighing plans either to evacuate or consolidate the handful of small settlements in the heart of a city with more than 100,000 angry Palestinians - a situation that Rabin had called "a potential time bomb."