By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Russia and China joined forces in a double veto on Saturday to knock down a Western-Arab U.N. Security Council resolution backing an Arab League plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.
The other 13 council members voted in favor of the resolution, which would have said that the council "fully supports" the Arab League plan aimed at ending 11 months of bloodshed as Syria has sought to crush an anti-Assad uprising.
Mohammed Loulichki, the U.N. ambassador of Morocco, the sole Arab member of the 15-nation council, voiced his "great regret and disappointment" that Moscow and Beijing struck down the resolution.
Dropping the usual diplomatic courtesies, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said she was "disgusted" by the Russian and Chinese veto, adding that "any further bloodshed that flows will be on their (Russia's and China's) hands."
French Ambassador Gerard Araud told the council, "It is a sad day for this council, a sad day for all Syrians, and a sad day for democracy." He said Moscow and Beijing were now "complicit in the policy of repression" of Damascus.
This is the second time that permanent members Russia and China have exercised a double veto on the Syria issue. In October, they vetoed a European-drafted resolution condemning Syria and threatening it with possible sanctions.
Diplomats said China had been expected to follow Russia's lead and the decision to veto the text came from Moscow. Russia had complained that the draft resolution was an attempt at "regime change" in Syria, Moscow's close ally and a key Russian weapons export destination.
Russia's decision to vote against the resolution came after U.S. and European officials rejected a series of Russian amendments to the draft resolution that Rice said were "unacceptable."
Prior to the vote, several Western diplomats said that if Russia vetoed the resolution, it would be a sign of what they referred to as the "re-Putinization" of Russian foreign policy - referring to expectations that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will return to the presidency after this year's elections.
The changes proposed by Russia, seen by Reuters, would have introduced language assigning blame to Syria's opposition, as well as the government, for violence in which the United Nations says more than 5,000 people have died.
Western nations reject the idea of equal blame, saying the government is mainly responsible.
Russia had also insisted on dropping a demand that the Syrian government withdraw its security forces from cities, but U.S. and European delegations refuse to include that change.
(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Vicki Allen)