New grafs 23-24, to include further CBS statement, another incident reported, starting, ''Joyce issued, etc.'' picks up graf 23 pvs, ''the deaths, etc.

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Witnesses to the deaths of a CBS cameraman and a soundman on Friday challenged Israeli statements that the camera crew was surrounded by armed men when they were killed by Israeli tank fire.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres of Israel and the Israeli ambassador to the United States both said that the two CBS newsmen were ''in the midst of armed men'' when the Israeli gunners opened fire on them Thursday.

Funerals were conducted Friday for the two victims, cameraman Tafik Ghazawi, 47, and soundman Bahije Metni, 37, both Lebanese.

Ayad Hassan Harakeh, a CBS driver seriously injured in the shooting, and three other newsmen said the CBS crew was standing alone in the middle of a road in the village of Kfar Melki when two tank shells fell among them.

Asked if there were Shiite Moslem militia nearby when the Israelis opened fire, Harakeh said, ''No, not a single one.''

Harakeh said, however, that there was a man close to another camera crew working nearby, and that the man could have been a member of the Shiite Moslem Amal militia.

But Vladimir Popov, a Lebanese cameraman with a London-based UPITN crew, said that the man was an unarmed villager. Popov, who suffered a minor neck injury from shrapnel, insisted the Israelis ''knew we were there and knew what we were doing.''

Harakeh was interviewed by The Associated Press at American University Hospital where he had undergone surgery for shrapnel wounds in one leg and will undergo surgery on the other leg Saturday.

''We had been filming in Jbaa and Kfar Melki,'' he said. ''We know the Israelis saw us.''

Popov said the two shells that killed the CBS newsmen were the second burst fired by the Israeli tank.

He said the tank had earlier fired six rounds, several of which had badly damaged his car as well as some of the UPITN crew's equipment.

He estimated that his car was four to five yards from the CBS vehicle when the fatal shells fell. The tank, he said, was at least 600 to 800 yards away.

Michael Shegog, an Australian who serves as UPITN bureau chief in Beirut, said he interviewed his crew and others was convinced ''the crew was not in the company of any militia.''

The accounts from Harakeh and Popov were confirmed by two French journalists on the scene.

Marine Jacquemin, a reporter for the French TF-1 television network, said, ''The (CBS) cameraman, with his camera on his shoulder, was taking a last shot. Then came the shell. The cameraman flew up into the air, the soundman was hit in the breast. The driver, he fell injured.''

She and a French colleague, Alain Menarques of France Interne radio station, said there were no militiamen in the area.

Menarques told The Associated Press that ''the CBS crew was not with militiamen. They were by themselves.''

Their deaths brought strong statements of protest from CBS News, UPITN and the American networks ABC and NBC. Edward M. Joyce, president of CBS News, on Thursday protested to Peres ''what eyewitnesses call an unprovoked and deliberate attack.''

In a letter to Joyce on Friday, Peres said the CBS employes ''took position in the midst of a group of armed men who were engaged in active hostility'' against Israeli troops.

Peres expressed sorrow at their deaths and condolences to the families and the network. But he said the Israeli tank crew ''did not deviate from the strict orders concerning the protection of innocent bystanders,'' according to the letter released by Peres' office.

He rejected ''any suggestion that the incident was anything but a derivative of the tragic situation in Lebanon and the circumstances under which we are forced to carry out our duty to protect the lives of our soldiers.''

In Washington, Israeli Ambassador Meir Rosenne told CBS ''Morning News'' that, ''They were in the midst of armed men, a cameraman used his camera that could as well be a bazooka or any other weapon.''

Joyce issued a statement Friday saying CBS was ''not encouraged'' by Peres' response and urged a complete, independent investigation into the two deaths. Joyce said CBS News Vice President Ernest Leiser was being sent to Israel Sunday to discuss the incident.

Israel Television reported Friday that an Israeli tank fired at an Israeli TV crew during Thursday's raids and ''narrowly missed'' the vehicles. The military spokesman's office confirmed the TV report that Israeli troops fired at two cars on a country road in south Lebanon because the soldiers thought the cars were Lebanese vehicles traveling in an area barred to civilians.

The deaths of the newsmen occurred during an Israeli raid on Shiite Moslem villages in southern Lebanon aimed at halting guerrilla attacks on Israeli forces who are withdrawing from the country.

On Feb. 25, Israel warned Beirut-based journalists that they would not be allowed to report in Israeli-occupied areas of south Lebanon.

Both Western and Lebanese reporters have defied the ban, and Israeli soldiers have detained more than a dozen reporters in the south for questioning before releasing them.

The village of Kfar Melki was outside the zone occupied by Israeli soldiers.