JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israel will refuse to start negotiations for a hostage or prisoner swap until it receives ''signs of life'' about three Israeli soldiers held captive in Lebanon, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said.

''As long as we don't know who is alive and who isn't, we will discuss no other details,'' Rabin said Tuesday night at a meeting of his Labor Party's Central Committee.

Earlier Tuesday, Rabin told reporters after meeting U.N. envoy Marrack Goulding that confirming the Israelis were alive must be a first stage in contacts with Shiite radicals believed to hold the Israeli soldiers and most of the 16 foreign hostages in Lebanon.

As a second step, Rabin added, Israel would provide the Shiites with information on the whereabouts of an estimated 300 of their followers imprisoned by Israel.

''Only then will we negotiate the terms for the exchange,'' he said.

Rabin also said Israel considers the International Committee of the Red Cross to be ''the most suitable'' channel for negotiating a swap with the pro- Iranian Hezbollah movement, an umbrella organization for Shiite fundamentalist groups in Lebanon.

Hezbollah today claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb attack in south Lebanon that injured five Israeli soldiers and a Lebanese militiaman. The two suicide car bombers died in the blast five miles north of the Israeli border.

Rabin indicated there had been little progress made so far in resolving the hostage crisis, by saying, ''Unfortunately until this moment no Lebanese organization turned to the International Red Cross with any proposal.''

''Whoever wants real business, it's better to turn to the International Red Cross with whatever terms he has in mind,'' Rabin added.

Goulding, who returned to New York after shuttling between Beirut and Tel Aviv on the hostage situation, said his meeting with Rabin focused on U.N. demands that Israel release a Moslem cleric kidnapped by Israeli commandos from south Lebanon on July 28.

Rabin rejected the demand saying 33-year-old Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid would be freed only as part of a swap for Israeli and foreign hostages in Lebanon.

The Israeli leader also differed with Goulding's assertion that Obeid's capture ''does not help'' efforts to free hostages. ''I believe the fact it was done provides a bigger chance to return the Israeli soldiers missing and the captives home,'' Rabin said.

The three Israeli soldiers believed to be held by Hezbollah are Rahamim Alsheikh and Yosef Fink, who were captured in south Lebanon in February 1986, and an air navigator, Ron Arad, shot down while on a bombing mission near Sidon in October 1986.

Shlomo Alsheikh, the father of one of the Israeli prisoners held by the Shiites, was quoted today by the Yediot Ahronot daily as saying he learned 10 days ago ''for the first time that he (his son, Rahamim) is alive.''

''That's what we were told. We were told that there is information our son is alive and well, thank God,'' Alsheikh said.

Alsheikh did not make clear where he received the information, and Israeli officials refused to discuss the report.