BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ A senior Shiite Moslem cleric was quoted today as saying there were ''good signs'' that could speed up the release of French hostages in Lebanon.

Several Beirut newspapers said Sheik Abdel-Amir Kabalan, Lebanon's highest Shiite religious judge, made the statement after a meeting with two naturalized French physicians of Lebanese descent.

The newspapers said the main topic of discussion in the meeting was the release of the French hostages, especially journalist Jean-Paul Kauffmann, who was kidnapped in Moslem west Beirut on May 22, 1985.

''Sheik Kabalan affirmed that there are high-level international efforts for the release of the hostages in the earliest possible time,'' the newspapers said.

''There are good signs concerning the release of the prisoners in Kuwait, which will speed up the release of the French hostages,'' Kabalan was quoted as saying. He did not elaborate

The underground Islamic Jihad organization previously has demanded that three Frenchman and two Americans could be released if Kuwait freed 17 prisoners in jail for bombing the American and French embassies in Kuwait on Dec. 12, 1983.

Beirut radio stations and newspapers recently speculated that Islamic Jihad, or Islamic Holy War, would be willing to free the hostages if the Kuwaiti government agreed to shorten the 17 prisoners' jail terms.

In addition to his post as Lebanon's supreme Shiite judge, Kabalan heads the religious department of Justice Minister Nabih Berri's mainstream Shiite Amal militia.

The two naturalized French physicians he recieved at his west Beirut headquarters Wednesday were identified as Dr. Fuad Awar and his brother Dr. Fadi Awar.

Fuad Wwar was quoted by the independent newspaper An-Nahar, its French- language sister L'Orient-Le Jour and the leftist As-Safir as saying after the meeting that he and his brother had been living in France for 17 years.

''So it is our duty to visit figures helping to win the release of French friends held in our (original) country,'' he was quoted as saying.

In addition to Kauffmann, 43, of the weekly L'Evenement du Jeudi, Islamic Jihad also says it holds French diplomats Marcel Fontaine and Marcel Carton.

The group, believed made up of Shiite extremists loyal to Iran, also claims it holds the Associated Press chief Middle East correspondent, Terry Anderson, and American University of Beirut Acting Dean of Agriculture Thomas Sutherland.

Other Shiite and pro-Libyan groups claim they hold other American and French hostages in Lebanon.

In all, 17 foreigners are now missing in Lebanon - six Americans, six Frenchmen, two Britons, one Irishman, one Italian and one South Korean.