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Downed warplane widens Russia-Turkey rift

wreckage of Russian warplane after it was shot down
The Russian Sukhoi-25 fighter jet downed in Syria's northwest province of Idlib on February 3, 2018. Photo: Omar Haj Kadour / AFP / Getty Images

Relations between Russia and Turkey took a hit last week after a Russian warplane was shot down over Idlib province by Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a Syrian al-Qaeda offshoot allied with Turkey.

Why it matters: HTS used a “man-portable air-defense system” (MANPAD), a shoulder-fired missile system the U.S. has refused to provide to Kurdish militias, fearing it could fall into the hands of extremists. The terror group likely received the weapon from Turkey.

The Russian plane's downing followed a joint attack by HTS and Turkish troops that undermined a Russian-led “de-escalation zone.” In response, Russia has blocked Turkish fighter jets and drones from entering Syrian air space.

The bottom line: Syrian peace talks in Astana have already collapsed as a result of Turkish aggression, including the recent unprovoked attacks on Kurdish civilians in Afrin. This setback in Russia-Turkey relations increases tensions between countries vying for influence in Syria. In a region where "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," it may improve U.S.–Russia relations, catalyzing greater cooperation between Washington and Moscow in UN-brokered negotiations.

David L. Phillips is director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights.

Axios 13 hours ago
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North Korea says it is stopping nuclear and missile testing

Kim Jong-un sits at a desk.
Kim Jong-un. Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has announced the country will stop conducting nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles starting April 21, and shut down a nuclear test site in the north side of the country, through a broadcast on the state news agency KCNA reports, and President Trump announced in a tweet, later adding quotes from the message.

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State Department report cuts references to Israeli "occupation"

A Palestinian protester at the Gaza-Israel border
A Palestinian demonstrator at a protest today near the Gaza-Israel border. Photo: Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The State Department dropped almost all uses of the term "occupation" from its latest annual report on the human rights situation in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Between the lines: This is a significant change, because the public language used by the State Department usually communicates a policy. The U.N., the E.U., Russia, China and almost all the countries in the world see the Israeli control of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights since 1967 as "military occupation." But Israel doesn't, and now the U.S. might not see it that way either.