RAMALLAH, West Bank, Oct. 22--The cackle of laughter and singing coming across the Israeli Army radio is suddenly interrupted. ''Snipers! Snipers!'' screams an Israeli Army scout atop a nearby building.
A second later, a barrage of bullets shatters the windows of an Israeli Army Jeep, inches from the head of Lt. Erez Winner, 31, who controls the Israeli ground forces in Ramallah. More bullets ricochet off the side of his Army Jeep, the street and a nearby building. Simultaneously, 200 Palestinian youths, yelling '' Allah Akbar ,'' or ''God is great,'' charge down the street throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.
One of the fiery explosives lands under the hood of a Jeep and appears to set it on fire. The Israeli soldier reverses the Jeep so fast that another soldier, leaning against the side of the Jeep for protection, is knocked to the ground. About 60 Palestinians, who are within 25 yards, pelt him with rocks. He is hit in the forehead and starts to bleed.
Still another soldier jumps from the Jeep to help him, but he is shot in the right hip by one of the Palestinian snipers. He limps into the back of the Jeep, bleeding. The crowd of Palestinians cheers.
Similar clashes took place over the weekend in other West Bank and Gaza towns, but none was as intense as what happened here and was witnessed by a USA TODAY reporter and photographer on patrol with an Israeli unit when the firefight broke out. This is what they saw:
Palestinians have begun attacking Israeli soldiers in what appear to be well-planned and coordinated ambushes involving not only youths but Palestinian Authority policemen and civilian ambulance drivers. Ambulances are delivering stones, and sometimes fighters, to the front lines, despite official denials.
The Palestinians are not only throwing rocks at the soldiers but are shooting at them. Israeli officials also say, though there is no confirmation, that Palestinians have begun bringing heavier artillery, including hand-held rocket launchers, to the front lines.
Israeli soldiers, under orders to shoot from the waist down, also appear to be firing rubber bullets at the heads and upper bodies of Palestinians.
''This intifada is no longer just Palestinian kids throwing rocks,'' Winner yells as he dodges for cover. ''These are professionally organized attacks using kids as a cover.''
And, warns Maj. Gen. Amos Malka, head of military intelligence for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), this ''is only the beginning.'' Other Israeli intelligence officials say that satellite photos reveal that heavy artillery is being moved around the Palestinian-controlled territories in the West Bank and Gaza.
They say that leaders of Fatah, the political party of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's government, and leaders of the militant Muslim group Hamas have begun taking over intifada attacks in several West Bank towns like Ramallah.
''The intifada is increasing in intensity and firepower,'' Malka says. ''And it's going to get worse. Israel could face a new wave of terror.''
The intifada, or Palestinian uprising, began in 1987 as a protest by rock-throwing youth to Israel's occupation of the West Bank of the Jordan River, which Israel captured from Jordan in 1967.
Palestinian leaders deny that, with rare exceptions, anything but rocks is being used or that Palestinian officials are involved.
''Israelis are shooting mercilessly at Palestinians, mostly innocent children, who are armed with only rocks,'' says Abu Mohamed Batsh, political leader of the militant Muslim group Islamic Jihad.
Any other reports, adds Fatah leader Marwan Bargouthi, are ''Israeli propaganda.''
''Look at the figures: More than 100 dead, almost all of them Palestinians,'' he says. ''Now tell me who is the brutal aggressor here? It's Israel. They are massacring us. You won't see us with tanks, rocket or missiles in our hands. You'll see only innocent children.''
The attack in Ramallah comes as Israel is receiving widespread criticism for using what its critics say is excessive force against Palestinians in stopping the clashes.
The U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva condemned Israel this weekend for ''crimes against humanity,'' and leaders at the Arab Summit in Cairo on Sunday blasted the Jewish state for ''mass killing and barbarian bombing.'' Several Arab leaders repeatedly questioned why Israeli forces were using live ammunition against boys armed only with rocks.
As the leaders spoke, clashes continued to erupt throughout the West Bank and Gaza but none was as intense as here at the Ayosh Junction, which separates the Palestinian-controlled town of Ramallah from the Israeli-controlled town and military base of Beit El.
It was supposed to have been a quiet day in Ramallah. An undercover Israeli Army scout, mingling among the 200 Palestinian youths, had just reported that most were drinking Pepsi Colas, singing songs and ''simply walking'' around the litter-filled streets.