An uneasy calm settled Friday over the besieged province of Chechnya, where Russian troops halted their advance on the Chechen capital of Grozny after President Boris Yeltsin extended by 48 hours the deadline for Chechen fighters to surrender weapons.

After days of increasingly bloody clashes between Russian army units and Chechen irregulars, the guns largely fell silent in the mountainous southern region, and there were hints from the Kremlin and the separatists that the two sides are pulling back from the brink of war in the Caucasus.The pause in the advance - which lasts until midnight Saturday - gave residents of the encircled Chechen capital their first taste of tranquility in days as Muslims there marked Friday, the Islamic day of rest.

Yeltsin, meanwhile, made his first public appearance in a week since he was hospitalized for an operation on his nose. His meeting with U.S. Vice President Al Gore quelled rumors that the Russian leader was seriously ill or incapacitated.

The moves to revive negotiations could take some of the political heat off Yeltsin, who has faced vehement opposition from his allies in Parliament over the military crackdown in Chechnya.

Chechen separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev, apparently in response to the tentative peace feelers put out by Moscow, gave orders to his armed supporters to withdraw 1,000 yards from the front line, the official Itar-Tass news agency said.

Prime Minister Viktor Cher-nomyrdin said he was ready to meet Dudayev for negotiations. "I'm ready to do everything to resolve the problem by peaceful means," he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. But he added that if Dudayev failed to respond to the Kremlin initiative, Russian troops would resume their advance on Grozny and "achieve a final resolution to the Chechen problem."

Dudayev responded in a statement released in Grozny that he was ready for negotiations, without preconditions. Dudayev said in the statement that his Chechen "republic is ready for peaceful dialogue with Russia . . . (while) rejecting the language of ultimatums, attempts at military blackmail."

In a possible sign that the Kremlin was rethinking its strategy in the Chechen conflict, Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Yegorov and the heads of the so-called "power bodies" - Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, Interior Minister Viktor Yerin and Federal Counterintelligence Service chief Sergei Stepashin - were hastily recalled from the neighboring region of North Ossetia to the Russian capital late Friday for an expected meeting of the top-level Security Council.

Vladimir Shumeiko, a Yeltsin ally who chairs the Federation Council or upper house of Parliament, acknowledged that many of the casualties of the past week's fighting had been civilians, not combatants. He said civilian deaths were unacceptable, particularly in an operation that was intended to restore constitutional order in the region.

"The war is not actually being waged between fighting groups - civilians are getting killed," he told reporters. "Even one human life cannot be sacrificed to such values as territorial integrity, democracy, etc."

In Chechnya itself, Russian tank and armored columns were holding their positions on the northern, western and eastern approaches to Grozny. Russian helicopters reported they destroyed two Chechen armored personel carriers, despite thick fog. But cold weather and isolated attacks by Chechen fighters and snipers were taking a toll on Russian troops and equipment. "Fresh resources have to be sent in," First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets said.

The commanders of one Russian column advancing on the Chechen capital declared Friday they would advance no farther because the operation violated Russia's constitution.

In an emotional speech to about 1,000 Chechen villagers, Gen. Ivan Babichev said, "They (Russian leaders) can condemn us, but we are not going to shoot. We're not going to use tanks against the people. We are not going any farther."

The dramatic declaration by Babichev, a divisional general who was accompanied by army Col. Gennady Kondalin, appeared to highlight major discontent within the army over the Dec. 11 invasion to crush Chechnya's three-year bid for independence.

It meant that under command by Babichev and Kondalin, the armored column approaching Grozny from the west was pulling out of the operation to place a ring of steel around the city and throttle the drive for independence.

The column, which consists of between 300 and 400 armored vehicles and Grad missile launchers, has halted at Novo-Shurvoi, about 20 miles away from where Babichev spoke.