By Patricia Zengerle WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The unity pact between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the militant group Hamas dealt a sharp punch to U.S.-driven peace negotiations with Israel, but the Americans insisted it was not a fatal blow to the struggling talks. Washington was stunned by the deal announced on Wednesday between Fatah, the faction that leads the West Bank, and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and is viewed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately suspended participation in the peace process brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
The United States and the Philippines will sign a new security pact on Monday allowing American forces an increased military presence in the Southeast Asian country now struggling to raise its defense capabilities amid territorial disputes with China. The Enhanced Defense Cooperation agreement will run for 10 years, shorter than what the United States was originally asking for, two senior government officials said on Sunday, asking for anonymity due to lack of authority to speak on details of the pact. The pact will be signed just a few hours before U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Philippine President Benigno Aquino in Manila, as part of Obama's week-long tour of four Asian allies. The agreement allows the United States to rotate ships, aircraft and troops for a period longer than the current maximum of two weeks during joint military exercises by the two nations, a senior military source told Reuters.