By Jill Colvin
CITY HALL — Mayor Michael Bloomberg believes it would be "a sad day for America" if the plan to build a mosque near Ground Zero is derailed due to opposition.
"If we shut down — shout down a mosque and community center because it is two blocks away from the site where freedom was attacked, I think it would be a sad day for America," he told reporters gathered in Queens Monday.
He also commended President Barack Obama, who on Friday, appeared to defend the mosque, saying that support for the center was vital to "commitment to religious freedom."
"I think that standing up for America’s founding principles shows strength, not weakness, and I applaud the President for taking his stand," Bloomberg said. "It is my hope that the mosque and community center would add to the life and vitality of neighborhoods throughout the city.”
On Saturday, Obama appeared to backtrack on his support, saying his intention was "simply to let people know what I thought, which was that in this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion."
Bloomberg has been one of the staunchest supporters of the project, which detractors criticize as insensitive to those who died on 9-11.
His words come as Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the backers of the mosque project, named Park51, are planning to back down and move the site.
Sharif El-Gamal, the developer of the project, however, immediately dismissed the report as false and said that the paper had not spoken to anyone from their project.
"There is absolutely no factual basis from the report from Haaretz," El-Gamal said through a spokesman. "We don’t know where they got the information from."