BAZWAYA, Iraq — Holding white flags and traveling in convoys of dump trucks, army buses and family sedans, thousands of residents poured out of eastern Mosul on Thursday, the first significant wave of people to escape the city held by the Islamic State.

More than 1.2 million people are believed to be still trapped in the northern city, which Iraqi security forces are just beginning to penetrate after launching an offensive to retake it two weeks ago. Newly constructed camps in the area have capacity for just 60,000 people.

The stream of humanity crawled along in heavy traffic leaving Mosul and headed toward a swelling camp for displaced persons erected on the banks of the Khazir River, which has space for 1,000 families but is rapidly filling up.

Even as they fled, some were almost giddy with relief. Drivers in the convoys blasted their horns and flashed V for victory signs as Iraqi and Kurdish troops passed by on their way to the front lines.

For nearly 21/2 years, they have lived under Islamic State's brutal rule, in the group's de facto capital in Iraq.

The Islamic State group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi rallied his followers Thursday, releasing an audio recording that called on them to remain in the fight and obey their commanders.

“Oh, you who seek martyrdom! Start your actions!” Baghdadi said in a translation provided by the SITE intelligence group. “Totally decimate their territories, and make their blood flow like rivers.”

Analysts said it was the first time that the Islamic State leader, whose whereabouts are unknown, had personally called on his fighters to maintain discipline on the battlefield, suggesting he may be concerned about defections.

EPA proposes wider use of new form of herbicide Enlist Duo

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed more than doubling the number of states allowed to use a new version of a popular weed killer on genetically modified crops despite its earlier concerns.

Environmentalists are outraged with the proposal to increase from 15 to 34 the number of states that could use Enlist Duo, noting that the EPA sought court authority last year to withdraw approval.

The EPA had cited information from manufacturer Dow AgroSciences that indicated Enlist was probably more toxic to other plants than previously thought. But the agency said this week that its review determined Enlist “does not show any increased toxicity to plants and is therefore not of concern.” Enlist is approved for use on soybeans and corn; the EPA proposal would also allow cotton.

U.N.: Survivors report 239 dead in 2 Mediterranean shipwrecks

MILAN — Survivors say as many as 239 people have died in two shipwrecks off Libya, the U.N. refugee agency reported Thursday, bringing this year's toll to more than 4,220 migrants dead or missing in risky Mediterranean Sea crossings, the highest count on record.

A UNHCR spokeswoman in Italy said 31 survivors of two shipwrecks who arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa reported that the rubber dinghies they were traveling in had capsized Wednesday in heavy seas shortly after leaving Libya.

The first dinghy — which carried around 140 people — sank after it capsized, the UNHCR said. Twenty-nine people were rescued, and 12 bodies were recovered. In a separate operation, two women found swimming at sea said 128 other people had died in their wreck.

Rebels launch fatal attacks on Syrian regime forces in Aleppo

BEIRUT — Syrian rebels launched a fresh wave of attacks on government-controlled western Aleppo on Thursday, killing 12 civilians and wounding 200, according to state media, one day before a 10-hour “humanitarian pause” unilaterally declared by Moscow was set to take effect.

Meanwhile, an airstrike on a rebel-held village south of the contested city killed at least nine civilians, opposition activists said.

The city of Aleppo and its surrounding areas have become one of the main theaters of the Syrian war. It is the country's largest city and its former commercial capital and represents a major prize for any side that can claim control over it after more than five years of war.

The rebels control the city's eastern districts, which have been besieged by regime forces since July.

Magazine's ‘Afghan Girl' hospitalized in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's foreign ministry says an Afghan woman who gained fame in 1984 after a photograph of her as a refugee girl was published on the cover of National Geographic Magazine has been hospitalized after falling ill while in custody.

Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria said Thursday that Sharbat Gula is being treated at a hospital in Peshawar.

Authorities say the famed green-eyed “Afghan Girl” was arrested for holding a fake Pakistani identity card.

She has denied the charges, but a Pakistani court Wednesday dismissed a bail plea for Gula.

Photographer Steve McCurry, whose photo made Gula famous, found her again in Afghanistan in 2002. She surfaced again in 2014 in Pakistan but went into hiding after authorities accused her of buying a fake ID card.

Iranians mark anniversary of U.S. Embassy takeover in '79

TEHRAN, Iran — In an annual rite of anti-Americanism in Iran, thousands gathered Thursday at the site of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran to mark the anniversary of its takeover by student activists in 1979. The demonstrators voiced opposition to the nuclear deal Iran signed with the U.S. and world powers.

The commemoration of the takeover, which launched the hostage crisis that saw 52 Americans held captive for 444 days, is a choreographed event among hard-liners. But it took on greater symbolism this year due to divisions over the nuclear deal and next year's presidential election.

President Hassan Rouhani, who has staked his three-year-old administration on the nuclear deal, faces a re-election challenge in May from conservative forces that view the deal as appeasement.

South Korea: Choi Soon-sil, a friend of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, was arrested Thursday over allegations of influence-peddling. South Korean media speculate that Choi, whose late father was a cult leader and mentor to Park, pushed businesses to donate millions to two foundations that she controlled.

South Africa: The country's biggest opposition party, The Democratic Alliance, said Thursday that it is pushing for a parliamentary vote to remove President Jacob Zuma next week following the release of a state watchdog report indicating possible government corruption linked to Zuma and some associates.