NEW YORK — New York Governor David Paterson has offered to mediate in a controversial project to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero, which supporters said Wednesday was still open to discussion.
A project promoter, Sharif El-Gamal, was cautious Wednesday about the governor's offer, but did not rule out negotiations as long at the center can be built in the neighborhood of lower Manhattan, which surrounds the former World Trade Center site.
"We... are always interested in hearing what our leaders have to say, and what their ideas and proposals are... But this has always been about serving lower Manhattan," El-Gamal told NY1 television channel.
Paterson on Tuesday offered a possible solution to the controversy.
"I don't have any objection to it being built there, but I am very sensitive to the desire of those who are adamant against it to see something else worked out," he told reporters.
"If the sponsors who are looking for property anywhere at a distance that would be such that it would accommodate a better feeling among the people who are frustrated, I would look into trying to provide them with the state property they would need," Paterson added.
The proposed location for the mosque and Islamic center, two blocks from the gaping Ground Zero hole where the Twin Towers were destroyed by Al-Qaeda terrorists on September 11, 2001 killing nearly 3,000 people, has touched raw nerves.
The project on August 3 got the unanimous backing from New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission, which said the 1850s building on Park Street it is to replace was not a protected historical landmark.
Supporters of the project, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, say the multi-story Islamic center project would build a bridge between the West and the Muslim world.
Opponents claim the project would insult the memory of the September 11 victims.
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations said the proposal was a test for religious freedom and urged the city panel to "reject efforts by Islamophobes" to block the project.
According to a Marist Poll out Tuesday, 53 percent of New York residents oppose the project, 34 percent approve it and 13 remain undecided.
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